On the eve of a colossal WTA final between the two top players in the world, I'm going to take some time to praise Victoria Azarenka for her amazing run.
She's notched 22 consecutive wins in 2012—the longest such streak to start a WTA season since 1997—and it's clear that Azarenka is no longer the fragile, temperamental girl she was for the last few years on the tour.
Not anymore. Where there used to be a look of angst, frustration or fear in Vika's eyes, there is only a cold, steely determination now.
What happened, what flicked the switch?
Hard to say, but easy to recognize. Azarenka has played forceful tennis all year, with a rare combo of desire, flair and killer instinct that has been missing on the WTA tour for quite some time.
Remember when we all thought Petra Kvitova was going to take over the No. 1 spot in Australia? That seems like another century now that the era of Azarenka has begun. The Belarusian has swiftly begun to dominate the game, and tomorrow in the BNP Paribas final open she'll have the chance to make another strong statement against Maria Sharapova, a woman that she has defeated in three consecutive title matches.
"For me it's her mental approach now," said Mary Jo Fernandez in an ESPN conference call on Wednesday. "I mean, she plays within herself, she doesn't get down on herself, she manages her emotions so much better."
All true, and while it seems strange that she is being called the "Novak Djokovic of the WTA," the precision of her return game makes Vika seem like a Nole doppelganger if there ever was one. Case in point: she's won 29 of 49 return games in five matches at Indian Wells.
"She's the best player in the world right now, there's just no question about it," added Fernandez. "She's very solid, and she's got weapons and has done a remarkable job to start off the season."
Now the big question: Will she be the best player in the world three months from now? Is she a model of success on the tour for years to come or is she a tennis comet, destined to burn out and become yet another struggling player that we're left to wonder about?
It's hard to say. She's always struck me as a person who was a little too mental to ever become a model of consistency on tour. But now that she's finding out that her game is good enough to dominate anybody on tour—more importantly, on a regular basis—perhaps she'll never turn back. Perhaps the dominating force that we all thought the WTA would forever lack is here?
Is this the beginning of the age of Vika we're witnessing? Is she that good?