The scoreboard was bleak: Julia Goerges looked at a set and 4-1 deficit while her coach, Sascha Nensel, offered encouragement during the changeover. Goerges reached for the handle of the umbrella the ball girl held over her head, pulling it closer to provide protection from the sun. But she could find no shelter from the blazing blasts Victoria Azarenka unleashed.
Azarenka continued to streak through this season, reeling off seven of the final eight games to dismiss the 14th-seeded German, 6-3, 6-1, in an Indian Wells fourth-round conquest.
The presence of the world No. 1 looked as soothing as sunburn for Goerges, who wore an expression of dejection throughout the latter stages of today's match. Azarenka has won six of the seven sets she's played against Goerges, and drained much of the drama from this encounter after breaking serve at 30 for a 3-2 opening-set lead. Alternating deep drives down the middle with direct strikes into the backhand wing to minimize Goerges' access to angles, Azarenka broke again for a 5-2 advantage. When Goerges pushed a forehand half-volley wide, Azarenka collected the opening set in 35 minutes.
The 15th-ranked Goerges displayed her explosiveness in reaching the Dubai final, but she needs more time to manufacture her bigger back swings, and was rushed as Azarenka won 16 of 24 points played on Goerges' first serve. The fans tried to get into it, but with Goerges struggling to gain traction in her own service games, one of the biggest roars from the crowd came courtesy of a young man who broke out an engagement ring and proposed to his girlfriend. In a sign of capitulation, Goerges double faulted as Azarenka broke for 5-1, ultimately closing the contest with an ace.
This was a much sharper Azarenka than the woman who blew a 6-4, 5-1 lead to another big-hitting German, Mona Barthel, in the second round—before fighting back from a 1-4 third-set deficit for a close win. Azarenka clanked 12 double faults in that match and committed seven doubles today, including two in a row on two separate occasions. She'll undoubtedly want to clean up her serve, but it's tough to quibble with the results: Azarenka's 20-0 start is the best women's start to a season since Serena Williams won 21 straight to open 2003, a year in which she completed the "Serena Slam."
Next up for Azarenka is a quarterfinal clash with Agnieszka Radwanska, which carries a soap opera subtext: Radwanska alleged that Azarenka feigned an ankle injury during her semifinal win over the Pole in Doha. Both women have since said they put the incident behind them, but the no-look, dead-fish handshake exchanged after that match speaks volumes about how Radwanska felt, and could add intensity to a showdown between the only two 20-match winners on the WTA this season. All three of Radwanska's losses this season have come against Azarenka, who is 8-3 lifetime against the world No. 5, including a gripping, 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (3) triumph in the fourth round of last year's tournament.