Victoria Azarenka stuns Maria Sharapova in Australian Open final
Victoria Azarenka outclassed Maria Sharapova in the Australian Open final to win her maiden Grand Slam title and become the new world number one.
The 22-year-old Belarusian marked her first major final with a nerveless display, coming through 6-3 6-0 in an hour and 22 minutes on Rod Laver Arena.
Three-time major champion Sharapova could not live with her opponent's pace, variety or unrelenting intensity.
The win sees Azarenka replace Caroline Wozniacki at the top of the rankings.
It was the first time since the 2009 Australian Open that the number one spot has been decided by the outcome of a Grand Slam final.
And Azarenka was a worthy winner following a brilliant performance in which she made only 12 unforced errors to Sharapova's 30.
"I would like to thank my team," said the right-hander from Minsk, who dropped only one set all tournament.
"You guys have supported me for so long. You believed in me, made me realise I can believe in myself and that I can finally raise this trophy.
"I have loved coming back every year since I was a junior. I cannot wait to be back next year. I have had an amazing month in Australia and it is a dream come true."
Azarenka, who joins an illustrious list of names on the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup, reached the semi-finals of Wimbledon last year but that was the only other time she had been past the last eight of a major.
And she was far from convincing in the early stages, a couple of errors helping fourth seed Sharapova into a 2-0 lead.
However, the Russian soon began to falter and a long backhand let Azarenka strike back to love in game four.
The turning point seemed to be Azarenka's perfectly-timed lob to hold in game seven, which she followed up with a backhand volley to break for 5-3.
The first set was served out to 15 in 46 minutes and a superb passing shot gave Azarenka the early initiative in the second set.
Sharapova squandered a chance to respond immediately and she was made to pay as a ruthless Azarenka took total control.
Two more breaks all but ended the contest, and though Sharapova had a break point in the final game, the Belarusian prevailed and dropped to her knees in celebration.
"Congratulations to Victoria," stated Sharapova. "You have earned this title. You have worked so hard for it over the years.
"It is a real honour to have your name on the trophy. Congratulations, and cherish it for as long as you can.
"As in any sport you have your good days and your tough days, where things just don't work out. Today, Victoria was better on so many levels.
"It has been a few years since I have stood here on this stage. I have had the great moments and the tough losses, and this was another one.
"But there is no doubt that I will be back, and performing in front of you guys again."