Victoria Azarenka capped a resurgent week with a 6-3, 6-1 win over fourth-seeded Angelique Kerber in the Brisbane International final on Saturday to claim her first title since 2013.
While many of the highly-ranked women have struggled with injuries at the start of the season, Azarenka has shown glimpses of the kind of form that helped her win back-to-back Australian Open titles in 2012 and '13 before injuries interrupted her next two seasons.
Azarenka was unseeded in Brisbane, where she won the inaugural title in 2009, because her ranking slipped to No. 22 at the end of 2015. But she dropped just 17 games in five matches - equaling Serena Williams' record for fewest games conceded by a winner at the tournament. It was an 18th title for former No. 1-ranked Azarenka, and her first since beating Williams at Cincinnati in August, 2013.
Top-ranked Williams was on the injured list this week, restricted to one set at the Hopman Cup in Perth because of inflammation in her left knee, while No. 2 Simona Halep and 2015 champion Maria Sharapova withdrew from the Brisbane tournament before playing a match and No. 3-ranked Garbine Muguruza retired with injury in her opening match.
Azarenka hit 25 winners and committed only nine unforced errors in the final, weathering some heavy groundstrokes early from the left-handed Kerber and dominating after a trade of service breaks before holding for a 5-3 lead. She broke three times in the second set, which she controlled after fending off three breakpoint chances in the first game.
Roger Federer and Milos Raonic won the men's semifinals and will meet again in the Brisbane International final in a reprise of the 2015 decider at the Australian Open warm-up tournament.
Defending champion Federer, who has been dealing all week with lingering flu-like symptoms, had a 6-1, 6-4 win over eighth-seeded Dominic Thiem, while Raonic beat local hope Bernard Tomic 7-6 (5), 7-6 (5).
Federer held off Raonic in three sets here last year, earning his 1,000th career match win as he clinched the title.
''It was my best match of the tournament. I hit the ball very well. I'm very excited to be back in the final - it's special playing Milos again tomorrow,'' said Federer, who is one win away from his 89th career title. ''I've come here three times now and three times I've made the final, so I'm very happy.''
Federer lost to Australia's Lleyton Hewitt in the 2014 final, his first trip to the Brisbane tournament.
There were no service breaks in the first of the semifinals but Raonic dominated the tiebreakers, racing to 5-1 leads in both and then holding off Tomic after the Australian leveled each tiebreaker at 5-5.
Raonic stopped working with Ivan Ljubicic late last year and recently hired Carlos Moya as a coach. Ljubicic is now working as part of Federer's team.
The Canadian missed the French Open last year because of a foot problem and Raonic later dropped out of the top 10.
''It's sort of confirming to myself and the people close to me that we're on the right track, doing the right kind of work, and the progress is there,'' Raonic said of his confident start to the season. ''So tomorrow is a great test for me, and one that I'm going to try to make the most of.''
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