Serena tops Sharapova; Azarenka next in Brisbane final

Brisbane, Australia ( - Serena Williams continued her mastery over Maria Sharapova in the semifinals of the Brisbane International and will face Victoria Azarenka for the title of the Australian Open tune-up.

The top-seeded Williams earned a 6-2, 7-6 (9-7) victory on Friday, beating Sharapova for the 14th straight time and improving to 15-2 all-time against the Russian star.

Azarenka, meanwhile, advanced with a 1-6, 6-3, 6-4 triumph over Jelena Jankovic. The second seed from Belarus is prepping for a run at a third straight Australian Open crown.

Friday's match between Williams and Sharapova was the first for the pair since last year's French Open final, which ended in a 6-4, 6-4 victory for the American superstar.

Williams battled a shaky service game Friday, connecting on only 40 percent of her first serves, but saved four of the five break points she faced. After easily winning the opening set, the world No. 1 fell behind 1-3 in the second and rallied to force a tiebreaker.

"My first serve percentage was really low," said Williams, who is trying for a second straight Brisbane crown. "I didn't serve nearly as well as I served in my first two matches. So that obviously played a little bit of a factor during the match today."

Consecutive Williams double-faults gave Sharapova a 5-4 edge in the tiebreak, but Sharapova followed with a double-fault of her own. Williams failed to close it out with her first two match points, but did so with an ace on the third try.

"I had a few missed chances," said Sharapova. "It was tough being a small break up in that tiebreaker and also missing that forehand just a little bit wide. But overall I was happy I could compete at this level in my third match back. This was a good sign for me. It was definitely a good week and good test for me."

Azarenka had her own troubles on Friday, dropping the first set in a mere 29 minutes. After squaring the match by winning the second set, Azarenka opened the third with a 5-1 cushion only to watch Jankovic win three straight to make it close.

"Jelena played really, really well in the first set," said Azarenka. "I felt that I could have done better, but it's just the matter of getting that timing and really fighting through it. I was able to change it around in the second set."

Williams and Azarenka split four meetings last year, all in finals. Azarenka won in Doha and Cincinnati, while Williams prevailed in Rome and the U.S. Open.

"It's a good rivalry," said Williams. "She's so intense on court, and off court she's so cool. So that's what makes the rivalry the best, is because when you step on the court I don't know her and she doesn't know me, and we fight like crazy. When it's over, it's over. There's a lot of mutual respect there."

Williams owns a 13-3 mark against Azarenka, including 4-3 in title matches.