Known best for the sounds she makes on court, Victoria Azarenka will instead head to Melbourne Park with plenty of noise being made about her Australian Open chances after the Belarusian took out the Sydney International on Friday night.
The 22-year-old overcame a second-set lapse to down defending champion Li Na 6-2, 1-6, 6-3 at Sydney Olympic Park.
One of the noisiest players on tour - who grunted her way to the 95 decibel mark during her semi-final run to Wimbledon last year - Azarenka instead turned up the volume on her powerful ground strokes, giving Li the run around from the back of the court.
While much of the focus this week has been on the battle for the world number one between incumbent Caroline Wozniacki and her suitor Petra Kvitova, Azarenka has quietly consolidated her number three ranking and must be considered a serious threat in Melbourne.
A 2005 junior Australian Open champion, Azarenka was a stealthy mover on the tour last year, rising from 10th in the world to her current ranking thanks to three titles and consistent results at the four grand slams.
She fairly blasted through the first set on Friday night, ripping winners at will, particularly on the backhand flank.
But the errors that tallied so swiftly for Li in the opener began to dwindle in the second set, China's number one player taking it comfortably as she began to eye off her first tournament win since last year's French Open.
After games had stayed on serve at 4-3 in the decider Azarenka then found an extra gear, breaking her opponent to serve for the match.
Also known on occasion for her fragile temperament, Azarenka steeled herself during a tense game to serve out the match, calmly blunting several break back opportunities to snare the title.
Despite the loss, Li will also have plenty of confidence heading to Melbourne.
She is 18-2 in singles matches in Australia over the last year, her only losses across four tournaments coming on Friday night and in the final of the grand slam opener of 2011 against Kim Clijsters.
AAPTags: sport, tennis, sydney-2000, nsw, australia First posted January 13, 2012 23:38:20