(Reuters) - Victoria Azarenka kept up a banner year when she beat Svetlana Kuznetsova 6-3 6-2 to win the Miami Open in Florida on Saturday.
Azarenka punished her Russian opponent’s weak serve to wrap up the final in 80 minutes in relentless humidity under a searing sun in the early afternoon encounter on the Key Biscayne hardcourt.
The 13th seed finished off Kuznetsova with a powerful backhand groundstroke for the 20th title of her career, and her third of the year, after winning previously in Indian Wells and Brisbane.
It is the third Miami title for the 26-year-old from Belarus and the first time she has won the same tournament more than twice.
She is also the first woman to win the Indian Wells and Miami tournaments back-to-back since Kim Clijsters in 2005.
“This just gives me even more inspiration and motivation to keep working harder,” Azarenka said in a courtside interview.
“I‘m very happy that all the work that I’ve been putting in is paying off. It’s such a great opportunity to play the whole month so consistent.”
Azarenka seems to be returning to the form that took her to the top of the world rankings four years ago, before she was sidetracked by injury and personal problems.
She beat Serena Williams in the final at Indian Wells two weeks ago, and on Saturday never gave Kuznetsova a chance.
She pounced on Kuznetsova’s second serve, breaking the Russian five times in the first set alone.
Azarenka also had her serving problems, however. She was broken three times in the first set but settled down in the second to hold throughout.
“It was pretty tough conditions with being so hot,” she said.
“It didn’t seem too windy but it was really difficult to serve because the ball was flying too much. I really took my opportunities, stepped into the net a lot.”
A long week perhaps caught up with Kuznetsova in the final, after she battled through three sets in four of the five matches she won to get to the final.
Along the way, she beat world number one Serena Williams.
But Kuznetsova was outclassed by Azarenka, whose sights will soon turn to the clay court season and the French Open.
“I think my game suits pretty well for the clay court season,” said the two-times Australian Open champion.
“I’ve been in the semis of the French Open. I‘m ready to take that second step.”
Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina; Editing by Ruth Pitchford