INDIAN WELLS, Calif. -- As we wait for a truly dominant figure to emerge in the women's game in the wake of injury and age to the Williams sisters and Kim Clijsters, the game of musical chairs continued at Indian Wells, where last year's champion and former world No. 1, Caroline Wozniacki, got blitzed by another former world No. 1, Ana Ivanovic, 6-3,-6-2.
That means for the fifth straight year, the tournament will crown a first-time champion. Daniela Hantuchova is the last with multiple wins here. She won in 2007, five years after her maiden desert triumph.
Variety wouldn't mean much if the rest of the women's schedule would take some shape, but the previous major winners can't seem to build momentum. Samantha Stosur, 2011 U.S. Open winner over Serena Williams, went down to Nadia Petrova in her second match. Petra Kvitova, winner of last year's Wimbledon, was taken out in her first match by rising 19-year-old American Christina McHale. Clijsters is out, and Li Na lost to Angelique Kerber and hasn't won a tournament since winning last year's French Open.
The music, however, looks like it is about to stop. Victoria Azarenka -- coming off her first major title at the Australian Open, where she mauled Maria Sharapova in the final -- absolutely humiliated the previously red-hot Agnieszka Radwanska 6-0, 6-2 on Wednesday. It was another step toward bringing order to the women's galaxy.
This highly anticipated match was a merciless beatdown. Azarenka won the first 11 games and was leading 5-0 in the second set before generously conceding two games to Radwanska.
Azarenka hasn't lost this year. She's 21-0, still a distance from the WTA record of 37 straight wins to begin a year, set by Martina Hingis in 1997. But Azarenka is offering up the first sign of real dominance in the women's game.
The women's game needs a powerhouse, and after months and months of Wozniacki holding on to the top ranking without winning a Slam, it looks like it has one. Azarenka is a power player and has been building to this moment for the past year. Not including her five retirements and walkovers, Azarenka has won, and has lost virtually only to big players, not showing the letdowns that have befallen her peers.
Since retiring against Wozniacki at Indian Wells a year ago, Azarenka appeared in the semis or finals of 11 of her past 15 tournaments and reached the finals of her past five. She hasn't won big on clay, but on hard courts, she is to be feared.
And Azarenka has done something else great players must do: She's exacted revenge on her rivals, keeping the mental game from moving into Nadal-Djokovic space. She's won her past eight matches against top-10 players.
The exceptions are Kvitova and Serena. Last year's U.S. Open was supposed to represent Azarenka's breakout, but Williams crushed her 6-1 in the first set and hung on in a second-set tiebreaker in the third round.
Kvitova has beaten Azarenka in their past four meetings, including three times last year. The most notable was a 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 win in the Istanbul final on indoor hard courts. She's beaten Azarenka on each surface, suggesting unfinished business. The problem for the world No. 3, however, is that unlike Azarenka, Kvitova is prone to slip, as she did against No. 32 McHale.
Here's the good news: As of now, an Azarenka-Sharapova final here Saturday is still possible.
Meanwhile, the struggles continue for Wozniacki. Ivanovic exposed her well-documented lack of firepower and inability to turn defense into offense. Maybe it was just a bad day at the office. It sure looked like it. Instead of playing loose, without the pressure of being No. 1 weighing on her, Wozniacki played worse, without much urgency.
It was a big win for Ivanovic, who hadn't beaten a top-10 player in more than a year. Although Wozniacki is still searching for her game, Azarenka is filling the void. And right now, she isn't sharing, poised to follow up her Australian Open major by making a statement in the desert.