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Azarenka captures first career trophy

BELARUSSIAN Victoria Azarenka beat Marion Bartoli 6-3, 6-1 in the women's final of the Brisbane International yesterday to capture her first singles title.

The second-seeded Azarenka ended a frustrating run of four final losses in the past two seasons with a dominating display, winning the tournament without dropping a set.

"Everybody says the third time's the charm but for me it is the fifth one, I'm just glad I got it," Azarenka said. "I've improved on pretty much everything I could in the pre-season but there is still plenty of room for improvement. I just keep going and play the best I can."

The 19-year-old reeled off six games in a row to close out the first set and open up a 4-0 lead in the second as Bartoli's game began to fall apart.

Bartoli, a former Wimbledon finalist, had defied the odds just by reaching the final after being struck down by illness for most of last year but was unable to match her younger opponent.

"This is the first time (so early in the season) that I feel great," she said. "I am just pleased about that. I want to stay positive. If I can carry on the same toward the Aussie Open that will be great."

Bartoli's loss completed a disappointing day for the French in Brisbane after Spanish Davis Cup hero Fernando Verdasco and Czech Radek Stepanek won their semifinals against French opponents. Third-seed Verdasco beat Paul-Henri Mathieu 6-2, 6-1 before eighth-seed Stepanek came from behind to beat Richard Gasquet 2-6, 6-2, 6-4.

"I think the whole match, even when I lost the first one, was played to a high quality, it was a very tough match," Stepanek said.

"I think I was the one who was more active in the last two sets, I was more aggressive. I tried to finish the points and I think that was the difference between us today."

Verdasco was untroubled beating Mathieu in just 78 minutes, winning 11 successive games after trailing 0-2 in the first set, despite having his concentration momentarily broken by a female fan who asked him to marry her.

"I just told her that it is not the moment right now," he joked.

"I am focusing on tennis. Maybe if I get married it is worse (distraction). I told her that I need time."

Verdasco has lost his two previous matches to Stepanek but said he was better prepared this time.

In India, third-seeded Marin Cilic of Croatia reached the final of the Chennai Open yesterday with a 6-4, 6-3 victory over Marcel Granollers of Spain.

Cilic will face unheralded Somdev Devvarman of India, who advanced to the final after No. 5 Rainer Schuettler of Germany withdrew with a wrist injury.

It will be the 23-year-old Devvarman's first ATP Tour final, after winning NCAA collegiate titles in 2006 and '07 at the University of Virginia.

In Doha, defending champion Andy Murray continued his mastery over world No. 2 Roger Federer when he defeated the Swiss 6-7, 6-2, 6-2 on Friday to reach the Qatar Open final.

Briton Murray, who has a 5-2 head-to-head record over Federer including an exhibition event last week in Abu Dhabi, will meet American Andy Roddick in the final, if a back problem allows.

Roddick overcame the plucky resistance of Frenchman Gael Monfils to win his semifinal 7-6, 3-6, 6-3 earlier.


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