- Internazionali BNL d'Italia
Serena signals French Open warning with Rome glory
Serena Williams will begin her French Open assault on the foundation of a perfect 16-0 clay-court season after she defeated Victoria Azarenka in the final of the Internazionali BNL d'Italia on Sunday.
Williams has not triumphed at Roland Garros since 2002, but she will head into the year's second grand slam riding a streak of four straight tournament victories. Azarenka was powerless to stop her rival in a 6-1 6-3 loss, which came in an hour and 33 minutes.
World No. 1 Williams is in arguably the best form of her career, stretching her winning run to 24 matches. She dropped ten games en route to the final at the Foro Italico, and allowed Azarenka to add only four more.
Eleven years ago the American won her sole Rome title, after which she quickly added the French Open crown. On this form, history looks set to repeat itself when Roland Garros starts on May 26.
Williams took control from the very first game of a competitive set, breaking at the third opportunity before saving two break points on her serve to cement a 2-0 advantage. She then penetrated the Azarenka delivery again for 3-0 as the final quickly moved away from the Belarusian.
In fairness to Azarenka she was dangerous in all three of those opening games, and got some reward in the fourth when she converted her fifth break chance to close to 3-1. However, she was then broken to love as Williams re-established her cushion.
The top seed wasn't even serving as well as her rival, yet the power of her groundstrokes - allied to clever shot selection - hurt Azarenka. A fourth break of the set for Williams wrapped it up, although the fact it took 47 minutes to do so testified to how hard she had been made to work.
Azarenka's spirit was needed again at the start of the second, saving three break points to stay on terms at 2-2. She eventually caved under the pressure as Williams moved ahead in game six for 4-2, but then dug in again to restore parity in the set at 4-3.
Williams, though, never eased up at any point in the match, and she broke for a final time - her sixth in total - before serving out for the championship.