SHE has a long way to go before she even goes close to matching his feat, but Victoria Azarenka is beginning 2012 in the way that Novak Djokovic embarked on his season in 2011. Azarenka has not been beaten since the final of last year's WTA Championships in Istanbul and yesterday took her winning start to 17 matches when she beat Sam Stosur 6-1, 6-2 in the final of the Qatar Open.
The world No 1 has already won all three tournaments in which she has played this season, though she would need to win 24 more matches to equal Djokovic's extraordinary start to last year, when the Serb suffered his first defeat in the semi-finals of the French Open in June. Azarenka, who started the year with victory in Sydney and then won her first Grand Slam title at the Australian Open, was much too good for Stosur, who was playing in her first final since her victory at last year's US Open.
Azarenka is expected to arrive here today for this week's Dubai Duty Free Championships. Organisers will be hoping she is fit to play following an ankle injury she suffered in Doha.
The 22-year-old from Belarus is due to head a field that includes six of the world's top seven women, with Maria Sharapova the only absentee. Caroline Wozniacki, who lost her world No 1 ranking to Azarenka in Melbourne, is the defending champion and will be keen to make amends for her early exit last week in Doha at the hands of Lucie Safarova.
The men's tournament will be held here next week, with Djokovic, Roger Federer and Andy Murray heading another impressive field. Murray, who has not played since the Australian Open, has been training in Miami with his coach, Ivan Lendl, but Federer has hardly drawn breath since Melbourne. After playing in the Davis Cup last weekend he headed straight for the indoor tournament in Rotterdam, which ended yesterday with the Swiss claiming his first title of the year, beating Juan Martin del Potro 6-1, 6-4 in the final.
Del Potro, who beat Federer in the 2009 US Open final, lost the first five games and failed to take any of the seven break points he created. The Argentine led 2-1 in the second set but Federer won five of the next seven games to claim the 71st title of his career. He was won at least one tournament every year since his maiden victory in Milan in 2001.