Victoria Azarenka sounds Australian Open warning with second Brisbane International trophy
Belarusian brushes off German fourth seed Angelique Kerber in warm-up event for Melbourne tournament, while Roger Federer faces Canadian Milos Raonic in final
Victoria Azarenka displayed the kind of form that could lead her to a hat-trick of Australian Open titles later this month by brushing aside German fourth seed Angelique Kerber 6-3 6-1 in the Brisbane International final yesterday.
In the men’s draw, defending champion Roger Federer will meet big-serving Canadian Milos Raonic in the final after the Swiss top seed dismantled rising Austrian talent Dominic Thiem 6-1, 6-4.
Azarenka, a former world number one, has been plagued by injury over the last two years, but the Belarusian showed little sign of rust this week on her way to a second Brisbane crown.
The world No 22 dropped only 17 games over five matches during the tournament and claimed her first title since the Cincinnati Masters in August 2013.
The 26-year-old, who won her maiden Brisbane title in 2009, took control of the match against world No 10 Kerber after an early trade of breaks in the first set and then peppered the court with her powerful groundstrokes.
Kerber, the highest seed left after the withdrawals of Maria Sharapova, Simona Halep and Garbine Muguruza, had three break points in the opening game of the second set, but once Azarenka fended them off, she did not look back.
Azarenka won back-to-back Australian Open titles from 2012 and has reached the US Open final twice, losing both to world No 1 Serena Williams.
Meanwhile, Federer left his opponent and the centre court crowd stunned as he charged to a 5-0 lead at the Pat Rafter Arena before encountering stiffer resistance from his 22-year-old opponent as the match progressed at the Australian Open warm-up.
The youngest player in the top 20, Thiem shrugged off the first set horror show to unleash some exquisite backhand winners in the second that had the Swiss master nodding approval.
Federer’s serve was bullet-proof during the clutch moments, however, and the world number three closed out the contest with a booming ace on his second match point.
Federer, who will be contesting his third consecutive Brisbane final and is one victory away from an 89th ATP title, hailed his “best match” of the tournament.
“I really thought I hit the ball very well,” the evergreen 34-year-old, lathered in sweat from the muggy Brisbane heat, said in a courtside interview.
“I’m very excited to be back in the final again ... It’s a great start to the season and I’m very happy.”
Raonic earlier won a battle of big servers to down local contender Bernard Tomic 7-6 (7-5), 7-6 (7-5) in the first semi.
Both players held their serve throughout the contest, but it was the Canadian who took control in the tiebreaks, jumping out to early leads on each occasion.
After Tomic won four straight points to make it 5-5 in the second set tiebreak, Raonic whipped a forehand winner down the line to bring up match point.
He closed out the contest in style, lunging for a cross-court backhand volley to end Tomic’s solid run at the tournament, which included an upset win over world number eight Kei Nishikori.
“It was a great match today, a difficult one against Bernie. He’s been playing so well, I know he’s going to do great things this year,” Raonic said.