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 Saturday’s final, and will be favoured to retain the title that kicked off her stunning 2013 season that included 78 wins from 82 matches and 11 titles.
Williams improved to 15-2 against Sharapova, with both losses way back in 2004.
After blowing two match points in the tiebreaker one on her serve and another receiving Williams sealed the win with an ace.
In their first meeting since the French Open final, the uneasy rivals barely exchanged glances before the match and briefly shook hands after.
Earlier, Victoria Azarenka overcame a shaky serve and another case of the nerves to move into the Brisbane International final with a 1-6, 6-3, 6-4 win over former No. 1-ranked Jelena Jankovic on Friday.
The reigning Australian Open champion dropped her first three service games and was facing three breakpoints in the opening game of the second set when she shifted the momentum with a winner she picked up on a half-volley as Jankovic missed her chance to convert the break.
After holding for the first time, second-seeded Azarenka settled down and dictated most of the remainder of the match as Jankovic started to wilt in the heat. After needing 10 match points to beat Stefanie Voegele in the quarterfinals the previous night, Azarenka missed one chance to serve it out at 5-2 in the deciding set, conceding a break with a double-fault.
She then missed a match point at 5-4 before finally finishing it off with a backhand crosscourt winner in just over two hours.
Top—ranked Serena Williams was playing third-seeded Maria Sharapova in the later semifinal. The defending Brisbane champion has a 14-2 winning record against Sharapova, including the last 13 matches dating back to 2005.
While Serena Williams has been close to career-best form, winning 78 of her 82 matches and collecting 11 titles in 2013, her older sister Venus has been struggling with injuries and is playing her first tournament since September.
Venus Williams advanced to the ASB Classic final in Auckland, New Zealand, on a walkover when fellow American Jamie Hampton withdrew from their semifinal Friday with a right hip injury.
In her first final since October 2012, she’ll meet second-seeded Ana Ivanovic, who beat third-seeded Kirsten Flipkens of Belgium 6-2, 7-6 (3).
Ivanovic, who won the most recent of her 11 WTA singles titles in 2011, has the chance to carry considerable momentum into the Australian Open later this month if she can maintain her current form.
She swept through the first set of the semifinal in only 21 minutes, breaking Flipkens in the first, third and fifth games.
“In the first set I didn’t do much wrong and in the second set we were both serving really well,” Ivanovic said. “I’m just really happy that I kept calm in the tiebreak and played some really good tennis.”
On the men’s side in Brisbane, second-seeded Kei Nishikori of Japan reached the semifinals with a 6-4, 5-7, 6-2 win over Marin Cilic of Croatia and will next meet former No. 1-ranked Lleyton Hewitt, who cruised past Romanian qualifier Marius Copil 6-4, 6-2.
Top-seeded Roger Federer will play Australian Marinko Matosevic in a night match, with the winner playing No. 8—seeded Jeremy Chardy of France in the semifinals.
In Perth, the French team clinched a place in the Hopman Cup final against Poland with a victory Friday over winless Spain.
Alize Cornet beat Anabel Medina Garrigues 6-2, 6-2 before Jo-Wilfried Tsonga sealed the victory by defeating 194th-ranked Daniel Munoz-De La Nava 6-4, 6-7 (7), 6-2.