9:00 AM PST, January 4, 2014
BRISBANE, Australia -- This was one time Serena Williams didn't mind being pushed into the deep end, to use her own description.
The top-ranked Williams carried her winning momentum from 2013 into the new season, beating No. 2-ranked Victoria Azarenka, 6-4, 7-5, on Saturday to defend her title at the Brisbane International and set the tone for the Australian Open.
She extended her winning streak to 22 matches with the emphatic win over the reigning Australian Open champion, making it back-to-back victories over two of her main rivals. She beat four-time major winner Maria Sharapova in straight sets in an intense semifinal, her 14th consecutive win in that frosty duel.
She improved to 14-3 against Azarenka, the last person to beat her last year. Before the semifinals, Williams said there was nothing like being “thrown into the deep end straight away.”
Having come through those challenges, she thought it was the ideal season-opening tournament.
“It was a great test. It showed me where my level was,” Williams said, looking ahead to the Australian Open. “I'm happy I was able to play both Maria and Victoria, because they brought their A games against me. I know now what I need to do for Melbourne — I look forward to it.”
The year's first major starts Jan. 13 at Melbourne Park and Williams, who won 78 of her 82 matches and collected 11 titles last year, is positioning herself as the favorite to claim a sixth Australian title after winning a tournament featuring six of the top 10 women.
The Williams sisters were hoping to both win a WTA Tour event in the same week for the first time in 15 years, but Ana Ivanovic prevented that when she beat Venus Williams, 6-2, 5-7, 6-4, in the final of the ASB Classic in Auckland, New Zealand.
Roger Federer and Lleyton Hewitt earned three-set victories on Saturday to set up a meeting in the Brisbane International final, renewing a rivalry that stretches back to the last millennium.
Federer beat No. 8-seeded Jeremy Chardy, 6-3, 6-7 (3), 6-3, in a semifinal featuring just two service breaks, immediately after Hewitt's 5-7, 6-4, 6-3 win over second-seeded Kei Nishikori of Japan.
The pair of 32-year-old former No. 1s have met 26 times dating back to Hewitt's win at Lyon in 1999. Federer leads their head-to-head record 18-8, including 16 wins in their last 17 matches, and has 17 Grand Slam titles to Hewitt's two.
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