Serena claims tuneup for Australian Open
BRISBANE, Australia — Serena Williams proved the break between seasons hasn’t hurt her momentum, capturing her 47th career title with a 6-2, 6-1 victory over Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova on Saturday in the Brisbane International final.
Williams has won 35 of her past 36 matches, including titles at Wimbledon, the Olympics, the U.S. Open, the season-ending WTA championships and now the first event of 2013.
She already has won the Australian Open five times, and with the season’s first major a little more than a week away, she’s in good shape to add another title in Melbourne.
The Brisbane final was all over in 50 minutes with Williams dictating terms from the first break of serve in the sixth game.
“I always feel like I don’t know how to play tennis when I play against you,” Pavlyuchenkova told Williams at the trophy presentation.
The pair had traveled together on a training trip to Mauritius in the offseason but didn’t really hit against each other at the time.
“But this was true what I said,” the No. 36-ranked Pavlyuchenkova, who has won three WTA titles and more than $2.8 million in prize money, later said of her post-match assessment. “When she’s on fire, well, I feel like there is not much I can do. I mean, she’s a great player and she deserves to win.”
Williams said she’s been concentrating on being calm and composed, and has started to feel “serene” when she’s in her zone on court. She’s been feeling that way a lot in her comeback since a first-round loss at the French Open, her earliest exit from a Grand Slam.
“I was looking at a lot of old matches on YouTube, and I feel like right now I’m playing some of my best tennis,” the 15-time major winner said. “I feel like I want to do better and play better still.”
Pavlyuchenkova’s post-match comment, she said, was “a great compliment and a great honor for someone of her caliber to feel that way.”
In a tournament featuring eight of the world’s top 10 female players, not one match in Brisbane featured two seeded players due to a series of injuries and upsets. Second-ranked Maria Sharapova withdrew due to an injured collarbone, and Pavlyuchenkova ousted a pair of top-10 players: 2011 Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova in the second round and fourth-seeded Angelique Kerber in the quarterfinals.
Williams missed a chance to extend her 11-1 record against top-ranked Victoria Azarenka when the 23-year-old Belarusian withdrew a half hour before their scheduled semifinal Friday night due to an infected toe on her right foot. Azarenka was more concerned about being ready for the Australian Open.
The night off obviously didn’t bother Williams, who went on a roll during a seven-game run from the middle of the first set until Pavlyuchenkova finally held serve in the fourth game of the second.
The 31-year-old Williams can regain the No. 1 ranking if she wins the Australian Open. If she does, she’ll be the oldest woman to hold the top spot on the WTA tour. Chris Evert set the mark in November 1985, aged 30 years, 11 months and three days.
Williams’ surge up the rankings started after the French Open, and also coincided with her starting to work with Patrick Mauratoglou’s academy in Paris.
She attributes her comeback to “spending a lot more time on the tennis court, I think, and doing a lot of things I love.”
“Everything just came together with the right timing with me wanting to do better, with me wanting to work hard, (Mauratoglou) being there and having everything to work hard, and having the same mind frame of playing matches for the way I like to play,” Williams said. “So I think life is about timing, and it was just good timing.”
In the men’s draw, defending champion Andy Murray advanced to the final when fifth-seeded Kei Nishikori retired with an injured left knee while trailing 6-4, 2-0 in their semifinal earlier Saturday.
The Olympic and U.S. Open champion will next meet 21-year-old Grigor Dimitrov, who is starting to live up to his billing as a star-in-the-making by reaching his first ATP Tour final with a 6-3, 5-7, 7-6 (5) victory over Marcos Baghdatis.
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