Victorious Victoria Azarenka hugs coach Sam Sumyk (above).

World # 18, Belarussian Victoria Azarenka, who lost her only 2 finals this year, found the third time to be a charm this afternoon, as she defeated world # 15 Maria Sharapova, flashing the fine hardcourt form that won her 3 titles in 2009, when she burst onto the scene and into the top 10.

Azarenka came in as the slight underdog today, as Sharapova has played great all week, dispatching the always tough Elena Dementieva Friday night in 3 sets, and then taking three sets to defeat Agnieszka Radwanska last night, coming from behind after being blitzed by Radwanska in the first set.  Sharapova, who won a Wimbledon and French Open warmup event, and who lost narrowly to the eventual champion, Serena Williams, at Wimbledon, has had a lot of buzz lately surrounding her game because her errors–including her double faults–are way down, and her big first and second serve appear to be back.

It was great to see Sharapova serving with her old, elongated service motion.  She won many easy points this week on her serve, and notably got much mustard on her second serve in Friday’s match versus countrywoman Dementieva, playing in her first tournament since injuring her calf at Roland Garros.  Several times in that close match Sharapova boomed deep, hard second serves that helped her get out of trouble.  A great sign, especially against Dementieva, whose return game is the hallmark of her tennis.  Sharapova served well all week until today, when she faced 11 break points and gave up 5 breaks.

Perhaps the long matches this weekend, and the quick turnaround between a tough 3 setter last night and today’s noontime start in California, was too much for Maria.  That, and Azarenka,of course, who just seemed to have more jump in her legs and way more pop off the ground in today’s final.  Azarenka outhit a seemingly healthy Sharapova today.  Quite an accomplishment for the 2010 Bank of the West Champion, who whipped American Melanie Oudin earlier in the week, and who handled top seeded Sam Stosur easily in straights yesterday afternoon.  Azarenka also defeated last year’s champion, Marion Bartoli during her run this week. 

Azarenka has had a difficult year compared to last, when she won Brisbane, Memphis, and Key Biscayne–her biggest victory to date.  In addition to not winning any titles before today, Azarenka had a miserable clay court season, capped by her upset loss to Gisela Dulko at Roland Garros.

Azarenka seemed to find her form on the grass, losing in the Eastbourne final to Ekaterina Makerova, before a very disappointing 3rd round Wimbledon loss to Petra Kvitova, in which Azarenka seemed to quit in the second set, losing 7-5, 6-0.

But the hardcourts suit Azarenka best, as she displayed today, winning 20 more points than Sharapova in blowout fashion, on her way to a 6-4, 6-1 win in 1 hour and 27 minutes.  Azarenka, who turned 21 yesterday, picked up a check for her win worth nearly $220,000.

Great week for “Vica”, as Sharapova referred to the champ in very familar terms during the trophy presentation ceremony.  Today’s title make 4 in Azarenka’s career, all on hards.

–Crack (