Azarenka sounds warning to Watson with Sydney win
The size of the task facing Heather Watson in the first round of the Australian Open was clearly exhibited in the final of the Apia International in Sydney on Friday, which was won by Victoria Azarenka in three sets.
British youngster Watson was drawn to face Azarenka in the opening round of next week's Australian Open. She could barely have asked for a tougher challenge than the in-form world No. 3, who beat Li Na 6-2 1-6 6-3 in the Sydney final.
Victory lays down a marker for the Belarusian ahead of what promises to be an open competition in Melbourne. Defending champion Kim Clijsters, world No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki and long-time force Serena Williams all head into the tournament with fitness doubts, while Azarenka could barely have enjoyed better preparation.
Na simply had no answer in a first set dominated by her rival, who won 17 of 29 points on Na's serve. Three breaks handed Azarenka a one-set advantage, with victory seemingly inevitable.
However, Na suddenly took control of the second as the momentum of the match completely flipped in her direction, breaking twice as errors began to creep into the Azarenka ground strokes.
Another break for Na in the first game of the third hinted at the upset, but Azarenka answered immediately before a series of strong holds. She then broke once more for 5-3, clinching victory after two hours on court.
At the Hobart International, Mona Barthel upset her higher-ranked compatriot Angelique Kerber to reach the final. The German dominated from the start of the match, winning 6-0 7-6(6), and will now face top seed Yanina Wickmayer, who beat Shahar Peer 7-6(1) 6-3.