Serena lone Williams to triumph
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 into 2014, beating No. 2-ranked Victoria Azarenka 6-4, 7-5 Saturday to defend her title at the Brisbane International and set the tone for the Australian Open.
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.
It was the end of a personal drought for second-seeded Ivanovic, who claimed her 12th career singles title and her first since Bali in 2011.
The men's final in Brisbane on Sunday will feature two 32-year-old former No. 1s.
Top-seeded Roger Federer and Lleyton Hewitt earned three-set semifinal victories to advance, renewing a rivalry that stretches back to the last millennium.
Serena 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."
Williams 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.
Williams has so many trophies now, she said she doesn't know where they all are — "some are MIA" — but that doesn't stop her from collecting more. This was her 58th, including 17 majors.
Immediately after the loss, Azarenka said she hopes to face Williams again in Melbourne — as the top two ranked players, they can only meet in the final.
"I can't say I'm satisfied today, but I want to take the positive, what I've done today, and build from here towards the next week," Azarenka said. "This is the first week where you really test yourself where your game is at, and from here you can take the positives and the things that you have to work on and really go after that."
Williams earned the first bFederer beat No. 8-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.
At Doha, Qatar, Rafael Nadal opened his 2014 campaign by winning his first title of the year in defeating Gael Monfils 6-1, 6-7 (5), 6-2.
Nadal showed why he's the top player in the world all week long. Although he wasn't in top form in this first event of the season, he battled to win his 61st career title, one shy of Guillermo Vilas' total, seventh on the all-time Open era list.
"I think I played my best match of the season — of the tournament — today," Nadal said after the exciting, two-hour final. "I was happy with how I played."
Of the five matches Nadal played this week he was taken the three-set distance three times: By Tobias Kamke in the second round, Peter Gojowczyk in the quarterfinals, and then by Monfils.
"The important thing is that I had a chance to survive after very tough matches this week," he said. "And it was a tougher match against a tougher opponent in the final.
"It's very exciting to start the year with a title."
Nadal, who reached the championship match in Doha in 2010, has been in the final of 15 of his last 18 tournaments. Last year he won a career-high 10 titles.
Nadal holds a 9-2 record against Monfils. The Frenchman previously won both of their meetings in Doha, in the 2009 quarterfinals and 2012 semifinals.
The 31st-ranked Monfils has been in three Doha finals, but will again go home without the trophy. He's appeared in 20 career finals, but won only four.
"Rafa is strong, hitting hard the ball," Monfils said. "It's always tough to play against him, and at the end he was a bit better than me today."
Nadal dominated the first set, taking it in just 23 minutes. Monfils managed to hold serve only in the sixth game.
"If I play like I did in the first set I'll be very competitive in Melbourne," Nadal said of the upcoming Australian Open.
In the second set it was all about Monfils to start, as the Frenchman could do no wrong en route to a 3-0 lead.
Although Nadal recouped the service break in the seventh game when Monfils netted a backhand, he couldn't bypass the Frenchman in the tiebreaker.
Nadal saved thee Monfils set points at 6-3 in the tiebreaker, but on the fourth Monfils nailed the set with an ace.
In the third set, Nadal broke Monfils in the fourth game when the Frenchman shipped two forehands long from 30-30.
Leading 3-1, Nadal saved four break points on his serve in the fifth game to take a 4-1 lead. Nadal broke serve again on a second match point in the final game when Monfils sailed a forehand long.