Victoria Azarenka on Brink of Claiming World No. 1 Ranking: 2012 Australian Open

Shane LambertAnalyst IIJanuary 27, 2012

Victoria Azarenka
Victoria AzarenkaClive Brunskill/Getty Images

Victoria Azarenka's climb to the top of women's tennis is not yet complete as the Belorussian prepares for the championship match at the 2012 Australian Open. However, if Azarenka can defeat Maria Sharapova in the final at Melbourne Park, then Azarenka will be the top ranked player in the world on Monday.

Her road to the brink of the top ranking has certainly not been without roadblocks and setbacks. 

It was in 2009 that Azarenka started to show fantastic promise, as she made deep runs at both Roland Garros and at the All England Club. However, she was still not able to best either Dinara Safina or Serena Williams in those tournaments, two players that helped keep Azarenka down a few years ago.

In 2010, the Belorussian appeared poised to improve on her 2009 results and she looked threatening for majors. However, the Australian Open that season saw her melt down in an important moment in her career.

After holding a set lead over Serena Williams and a four to love lead in the second set, Azarenka faltered and lost the 2010 Australian Open quarterfinal match in three sets. Williams then went on to win the Australian Open, and Azarenka's 2010 season after that was hardly memorable.

She fell in the first round at Roland Garros, the third round at Wimbledon and the second round at Flushing Meadows. With the falling results, Azarenka also fell out of the Top 10 in the WTA rankings and it was not until 2011 that she started showing promise again; promise that has continued in 2012.

Sharapova has played excellent tennis at Melbourne Park, and she is still a huge hurdle for Azarenka to clear in the final. 

Of the two, Sharapova is the proven big match winner, as the Russian has three times won a Grand Slam final match, including at the Australian Open in 2008.

If nerves were to factor into the women's final, then you have to think that it would be Azarenka who would choke; Sharapova has experienced success on a stage this big before.

However, Azarenka overcame adversity in both the quarterfinals and in the semifinals, as she faced three must-win sets in those two matches combined. The win over Clijsters especially should give Azarenka the confidence to move on and to take the Melbourne Park title down.

The women's final starts at Rod Laver Arena at 7:30 pm (Melbourne time) on Saturday with Azarenka a slight favorite in terms of betting odds (source: bet365).