Victoria Azarenka is undefeated through 23 straight in 2012. She easily dispatched Maria Sharapova in Sunday's final at Indian Wells to take her fourth tournament of the season and start the parlor game, "how long can she go?"
The tennis world played this last year when Novak Djokovic made it all the way to the French Open semifinal before dropping a match. Though the two streaks are different, each is equally surprising and has its own merits.
Expected unexpectedness: Djokovic and Azarenka were always believed to be players on the verge of breaking out. Yetr fifteen months ago, nobody would have assumed Djokovic would take over men's tennis. His talent was undeniable, but he had a habit of failing to live up to the moment of big matches. It was the same thing with Azarenka. She didn't have a Grand Slam under her belt like Djokovic, but it was thought to be a matter of time. Once she played in the moment and kept her confidence level high, she'd be able to break through.
Difficulty: It goes without saying that winning four tournaments to start the year is impressive. Djokovic had to go through a stacked men's field (see below). Azarenka had to deal with a decade of women's tennis parity. The WTA doesn't have a "big four." The top is constantly changing. In any given tournament, a semifinalist might come from the ranks of the unseeded or any one of the top 15 could hoist the trophy. Azarenka has consolidated power in a way not seen since Serena Williams played a regular schedule.
Versatility: This is no fault of Azarenka's: The tennis calendar has yet to get to the European clay court season. In theory, Azarenka should slip up once the surface turns slower. Of course, we said the same thing last year about Djokovic and he beat Rafael Nadal twice times on clay before finally losing to Roger Federer.
Top heavy: The women's game is so tospy-turvy that Sunday's matchup between No. 1 and No. 2 was the first in a final in more than four years. Djokovic had to go through Federer three times and Nadal once by this point last year. Azarenka has faced the top players in the women's game too. She's faced five players in the top 10, plus Kim Clijsters. There aren't any Federer or Nadals in there (Clijsters might count if she were healthy).