Serena slays Australian Open rival Azarenka

Serena Williams retains the Brisbane International title by beating Australian Open title holder Victoria Azarenka.

Serena Williams fired an unreturnable serve to finish it off the final against Victoria Azarenka [AFP]

Serena Williams has successfully defended her Brisbane International title against Belarusian world number two Victoria Azarenka and set the tone for the Australian Open.

The top-ranked Williams beat the reigning Australian Open champion 6-4, 7-5 on Saturday to extend her winning streak to 22 matches and ensure back-to-back victories over two of her main rivals. She beat four-time major winner Maria Sharapova in straight sets in the semi-finals.

The year’s first major starts on January 13 at Melbourne Park and Williams, who won 78 of her 82 matches and collected 11 titles last year, has positioned herself as the favorite to claim a sixth Australian title.

She improved to 14-3 against Azarenka, who beat Williams in two finals last year and was the last person to defeat the American, at Cincinnati in August.

Williams earned the first break in the seventh game and hit fired consecutive aces to finish off the first set in 37 minutes.

The 17-time major winner went up a break immediately in the second set before Azarenka won four straight games to take a 4-2 lead.

Federer and Hewitt renew rivalry

Williams, who was comparatively silent against a screeching opponent for the second straight night, let out a scream of relief and satisfaction after hitting an overhead winner to break back in the seventh game.

She yelled and pumped her arm again after converting a break in the 11th game with a backhand down line.

Serving for the championship, Williams started with two aces – her 10th and 11th – and then hit a service winner to set up two championship points at 40-15.

She fired an unreturnable serve to finish it off.

Venus Williams lost the final at Auckland, New Zealand earlier Saturday to Ana Ivanovic, ending the American sisters’ hopes of both winning a WTA title in the same week for the first time in 15 years.

The men’s final in Brisbane on Sunday will feature two 32-year-old former world number ones. Top-seeded Roger Federer and home favourite Lleyton Hewitt earned three-set semi-final victories to advance, renewing a rivalry that stretches back to the last millennium.

Federer beat number eight-seeded Jeremy Chardy 6-3, 6-7 (3), 6-3 immediately after Hewitt’s 5-7, 6-4, 6-3 win over second-seeded Kei Nishikori of Japan in sweltering heat topping 40 Celsius (104 F).

The pair have met 26 times dating back to 1999, with Federer leading 18-8 including 16 of the last 17.

Source: News Agencies