BRISBANE, Australia - World number one Serena Williams stamped herself as favourite for the Australian Open when she beat Victoria Azarenka in the final of the Brisbane International on Saturday.
In what could be a dress rehearsal for the Melbourne decider, Williams won a close first set then edged Azarenka in the second to win 6-4, 7-5 in 98 minutes.
Williams, the defending champion in Brisbane, just shaded Azarenka throughout, with her powerful serve proving the main difference between the world's two top players.
Williams broke Azarenka once in the first set. Although she lost her serve twice in the second, she broke Azarenka three times to seal a victory.
The win was Williams' 14th over Azarenka in 17 meetings, and stamps her as the player to beat in Melbourne later this month.
The world number one had four testing matches in Brisbane, against Andrea Petkovic, Dominika Cibulkova, Maria Sharapova and Azarenka, and said the tournament was perfect preparation for the Australian Open.
"It was a great test, it showed me where my level was, and I feel like I definitely have some room for improvement and things that I want to improve on going into Melbourne, and things I have to improve on if I want to win," she said.
"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." Williams warned that the win over Azarenka in Brisbane would count for little if they were to meet in the Australian Open final.
"I feel like if I were to play Victoria in the final, if I get to the final, it's a new match," she said.
"Obviously I'll have a little confidence, but at the same time, we both start at zero?zero."
Azarenka conceded afterwards that she had been outplayed on the key points.
"I think it was a pretty solid match," she said.
"There was a little bit, you know, a few errors in important moments.
"But Serena played a great match. She was better today in the important moments, and she took her chance."
Azarenka said she would take a lot of positives into the Australian Open, where she is the defending champion.
"I'm a perfectionist. I want to play better, I want to win," she said.
"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.
"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, who didn't drop a set on the way to the final, lost only four matches in 2011 on her way to winning 11 titles, including two Grand Slams.
She regained her number one ranking eight weeks into 2013 in a year that also included a winning streak of 34 consecutive matches.