New year, same result. Serena Williams successfully defended her title at the Brisbane International with a 6-4, 7-5 win over Victoria Azarenka in the final, a decisive signal to the rest of the field that the No. 1 player in the world has no plans on slowing down in 2014. After a grueling 2013 season that saw her post a 78-4 record and winning a career-best 11 titles, Serena stormed through the field in Brisbane, capturing her 58th career title without dropping a set.
Three thoughts on Serena's inaugural championship run:
Serena wasn't at her best and she didn't have to be: More than her 120 mph serve, powerful groundstrokes, or athleticism, Serena's ability to win matches while playing her B-level tennis is the most dominant aspect of her game. She wasn't as sharp as she was at this time last year, when she won the title dropping just 17 games (she lost that many in her last two matches this year). Against Maria Sharapova in the semifinals, she struggled with her serve, double-faulting twice in the second set tiebreak, and still won 6-2, 7-6 (7). In Saturday's final, she overcame a second set wobble after breaking to a 2-0 lead. Azarenka reeled off four straight games to earn a 4-2 lead before the American found her rhythm again and battled back to close out the match in two sets.
Serena will be more than pleased with the result, in which she extended her current win-streak to 22 matches -- her last loss was to Azarenka at the Western and Southern Open in August -- but always the perfectionist, she'll be focused on improving at the Australian Open. A hungry Serena is a deadly one and she surely feels robbed of her last two trips to Melbourne, where freak injuries have derailed her last two campaigns.
Serena is still beatable in Melbourne...hypothetically: In a wager of Serena vs. The Field at the upcoming Australian Open, which way to do you go? The five-time Australian Open champion hasn't won the title since 2010. During her Aussie drought her chief rival Azarenka won it twice goes into this year's tournament as the two-time defending champion. Only two players in the current top ten have beaten Serena at a Slam: Sharapova at Wimbledon in 2004 and Jelena Jankovic at the Australian Open in 2008.
Based on her own history, the threats to Serena's first Australian Open title in three years would most likely come from big-hitting players who go on a hot streak, such as Sabine Lisicki at Wimbledon last year, or from herself, (see losses to Sloane Stephens in Melbourne last year and Virginie Razzano at the 2012 French Open). As we saw in Brisbane, Serena is still prone to less-than-stellar days and mid-match wobbles. A solid week for Azarenka: The loss snapped her 24-match win streak in Australia, dating back to the 2011 Australian Open and she showed some rust during the tournament, including a surprising bout of nerves against Stefanie Voegele in the quarterfinals, squandering seven match points before winning 6-4, 6-7(7), 6-1. She followed that up with a good win over Jankovic, coming back to win 1-6, 6-3, 6-4. and put forth a good test against Serena. Azarenka continues to be one of the best battlers in the women's game and her fight was on full display in Brisbane. That's great news given her anemic finish to the 2013 season, where she went 1-4 after the U.S. Open and complained of motivation issues. As the only woman who has consistently challenged Serena at the top of the game, women's tennis needs Azarenka at her best.