BRISBANE, Australia (AP) — This was one time Serena Williams didn't mind being pushed into the deep end, to use her own description.
The top-ranked Williams carried her winning momentum from 2013 into the new season, beating No. 2-ranked Victoria Azarenka 6-4, 7-5 on Saturday to defend her title at the Brisbane International and set the tone for the Australian Open.
She extended her winning streak to 22 matches with the emphatic win over the reigning Australian Open champion, making it back-to-back victories over two of her main rivals. She beat four-time major winner Maria Sharapova in straight sets in an intense semifinal, her 14th consecutive win in that frosty duel.
She improved to 14-3 against Azarenka, the last person to beat her last year. Before the semifinals, Williams said there was nothing like being "thrown into the deep end straight away."
Having come through those challenges, she thought it was the ideal season-opening tournament.
"It was a great test. It showed me where my level was," Williams said, looking ahead to the Australian Open. "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."
The year's first major starts Jan. 13 at Melbourne Park and Williams, who won 78 of her 82 matches and collected 11 titles last year, is positioning herself as the favorite to claim a sixth Australian title after winning a tournament featuring six of the top 10 women.
Williams has so many trophies now, she said she doesn't know where they all are — "some are MIA" — but that doesn't stop her from collecting more. This was her 58th, including 17 majors.
Immediately after the loss, Azarenka said she hopes to face Williams again in Melbourne — as the top two ranked players, they can only meet in the final.
"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," Azarenka said. "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 earned the first break in the seventh game and hit fired consecutive aces to finish off the first set in 37 minutes.