BRISBANE, Australia — Serena Williams extended her winning streak against Maria Sharapova to 14 matches with a 6-2, 7-6 (7) semifinal victory Friday to earn a shot at back-to-back Brisbane International titles.
The defending champion will play second-seeded Victoria Azarenka in today's final, and will be favored to retain the title that kicked off her stunning 2013 season that included 78 wins from 82 matches and 11 titles.
After blowing two match points in the tiebreaker, Williams sealed the win with her seventh ace against the third-seeded Sharapova.
In their first meeting since the French Open final, the uneasy rivals barely exchanged glances before the match and only briefly shook hands after.
Both players were returning aggressively — leading to 15 double-faults between them and six breaks of serve in the second set — and hitting their grounds strokes hard and deep. Williams hit consecutive double-faults to give Sharapova a mini-break at 5-4 in the tiebreaker, something she said she couldn't remember ever doing before on tour. Sharapova responded with a double-fault to make it 5-5, and said she'd missed her opportunities.
"I had a few missed chances ... but overall I'm happy I can compete at this level in my third match back," Sharapova said. "It's a good sign for me."
Any friendship that existed between the pair soured when they traded personal barbs relating to their romantic relationships ahead of last year's Wimbledon, where Sharapova made an early exit.
At Doha, Qatar, Rafael Nadal reached the final of the Qatar Open by coming from behind to beat German qualifier Peter Gojowczyk 4-6, 6-2, 6-3.
Nadal is looking for his first title in Doha and will face Gael Monfils of France, who only needed 55 minutes to dispatch Florian Mayer of Germany 6-3, 6-2 in the other semifinal.
At Auckland, New Zealand, Venus Williams fell short in her attempt to capture her first title in more than a year, losing to Ana Ivanovic 6-2, 5-7, 6-4 in the final.
Second-seeded Ivanovic looked headed for a routine victory in the matchup between former world No. 1s, winning the first set in 35 minutes and holding match point at 5-3 in the second. But Williams fought back to break Ivanovic twice to capture the second set and force a decider.
Williams was playing in her first final since winning the title at Luxembourg in October 2012. The seven-time Grand Slam champion's ranking has fallen to 47th as she has battled injuries and Sjogren's syndrome, a fatigue-causing autoimmune disease, over the past two years.