KEY BISCAYNE (AP) _ Rising from her chair following the final changeover, Serena Williams glanced at her skirt and brushed away some lint, trying to look good in defeat.
It wasn't easy. A sore leg and erratic strokes were too much to overcome, and the top-ranked Williams was upset 6-3, 6-1 Saturday by 19-year-old Victoria Azarenka in the final of the Sony Ericsson Open.
Williams said her left thigh began bothering her in the quarterfinals, and she also was bothered by a sprained ankle.
“It was a little difficult moving to the left and a little bit to the right,'' she said.
With a chuckle, she added, “A little forward was also difficult.''
The loss ended Williams' reign on Key Biscayne. She was bidding for a record sixth women's title and her third in a row. Instead, she fell to 38-2 in the tournament since 2001, with the only other loss to her sister Venus.
“I'm not that bummed, because I feel like there's next year,'' Williams said. “And then there's the year after and the year after.''
The result heralded the emergence of Azarenka of Belarus, who trains in Scottsdale, Ariz., and will improve to a career-high No. 8 next week.
Novak Djokovic will bid for his second Key Biscayne men's title Sunday against Andy Murray, the tournament's first British finalist.
Williams played with her thigh taped, and even when she wasn't on the move, her strokes lacked consistency. She served poorly and had trouble putting Azarenka's 90 mph serves into play.
Williams limped at times and said she considered pulling out before the match.
“I don't like to not play,'' she said. “I gave the effort that I could give today. That's all I could give.''
Azarenka quickly realized Williams wasn't 100 percent and took advantage with pinpoint strokes to the corners.
“You could see the leg tape right away,'' Azarenka said. “But I wasn't really paying attention too much, because I had to play my game, and I had to keep her moving as much as I could.''
Williams led 3-2 before Azarenka won five consecutive games to take control. The teenager also won the final five games and closed out the biggest win of her career when Williams sailed a backhand long. Azarenka tossed away her racket, covered her face and hopped to the net.
Her voice shook during the trophy ceremony.
“I'm sorry. I think I forget my English right now,'' she told the crowd. “It was such an honor for me to play Serena. She's the greatest player for me. I was so happy to be able to play her and win.''
For Azarenka, it was a big improvement on their match in the fourth round at the Australian Open in January, when she became sick to her stomach beforehand and lost.
Azarenka said she battled nerves Saturday, but they betrayed her only with an occasional double-fault. She was so poised serving in the final game that when she challenged a call and was advised the replay system had malfunctioned, she smiled and won the next point.
“She has really, really improved,'' Williams said. “I actually look forward to playing her again so I can play a little better, and obviously do better. She's going to be a really good player.''
Azarenka was the steadier player in rallies, often punctuating her shots with a two-tone shriek worthy of Maria Sharapova. A subdued Williams remained impassive throughout, even as the match slipped away, in contrast with Roger Federer's racket-breaking outburst that stunned the stadium Friday.
Williams dropped serve five times and committed unforced errors on 34 of the 64 points she lost. Despite reaching the final, she was erratic throughout the tournament: She lost five games in a row a staggering five times.
Despite the defeat, she'll retain the No. 1 ranking for a 10th consecutive week.
Azarenka, who won her first tour title three months ago at Brisbane, improved to 23-2 this year. She grew up in Minsk and befriended NHL goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin, who invited her to the United States to train. She moved to Scottsdale and has lived there with Khabibulin and his wife since 2005.
Azarenka said her title would be big news in Belarus, where the most famous tennis player has been men's doubles specialist Max Mirnyi, who teamed with Andy Ram to win the doubles title Saturday. She was expecting a congratulatory phone call from President Alexander Lukashenko, whom she met when she was in grade school.
“He came to one of the tennis tournaments, and I was presenting flowers to him,'' she said.
Azarenka won $700,000, more than the men's first prize of $605,500. The two tours offer the same total prize money but distribute it differently.
“I can spend it in one day,'' Azarenka said. “I'm not allowed to drink in the States yet, but I'll definitely go celebrate somewhere.''
Pictured above is Victoria Azarenka.