Serena Williams assured herself of some more time atop the world rankings and gave herself a shot at a record sixth Miami title on Thursday with a three-set victory over her sister Venus in the ATP and WTA hardcourt tournament in Miami.
Serena, who claimed her 10th Grand Slam title at the Australian Open in January, evened her career head-to-head record against her elder sister at 10 wins apiece with a 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 victory.
“I definitely knew about it,” Serena said of her head-to-head record against her sister. “It’s definitely good to even it up. I would love to be in the lead again.”
She’ll seek a third straight Miami title, and sixth overall, when she tackles 19-year-old Victoria Azarenka of Belarus in the final.
The two met in the Australian Open quarter-finals, when a distraught Azarenka retired with a stomach ailment while leading 6-3, 2-4.
“She played me really, really tough in Australia,” Serena said. “She was not feeling great, but I thought she did a pretty good job.”
Serena, winner here in 2002-03-04 and 2007-08, currently shares the record for Miami victories with German icon Steffi Graf (1987, 1988, 1994, 1995, 1996).
She seized control in the third set, racing to a 4-1 lead, and broke Venus in the final game to seal the victory.
“I’m excited because I was thinking that I would love to remain number one, so obviously I was really excited about that,” Serena said. “I think I was more happy about that than winning the match at the end.”
Despite the high stakes, the duel between the sisters seemed subdued, with little show of emotion from the players until the final game, when Serena allowed herself an air-punching celebration before meeting her sister at the net.
With both players going for winners, errors abounded and rallies were few.
“It was a well-fought match,” said Venus, who twice double-faulted on break-point. “My serve wasn’t going as well as I wanted. But she brought a lot of balls back and played tough.”
While Venus was pleased to see the number one ranking staying in the family, that did little to soothe the sting of defeat.
“Even though she’s my sister, I’m still here to win the matches,” the elder Williams sister said. “I can’t give anyone anything. So I’m disappointed that I lost tonight, whether she kept the ranking or not.”
But Venus Williams had little doubt her sister could secure a record sixth Miami title.
“Obviously Victoria is talented, but you know, Serena is Serena,” Venus said.
Azarenka, ranked 10th in the world and seeded 11th, admitted she was in uncharted waters.
“It’s the first final in such a big tournament for me,” she said. “It’s all kind of an experience for me. It’s a new thing that I’m going to be introduced to on how to handle.”
“It’s the biggest moment in my career,” said Azarenka, who reached the semi-finals last month at Indian Wells.
“It feels great that all the work I’ve been doing is paying off. I was just trying to play every point from the beginning to the end.”
Azarenka gave up an early service break in the first set, but won the next four games to pocket the set.
Kuznetsova raced to a 5-1 lead en route to leveling the match at one set apiece, but Azarenka broke Kuznetsova in the first game of the third set to gain the upper hand.
Azarenka missed her first opportunity to serve out the match, Kuznetsova saving one match point then breaking serve courtesy of an Azarenka double fault.
But Azarenka broke Kuznetsova in the next game, and sealed the victory on her third match point after two hours and 40 minutes played in sweltering heat.
“I’m just so happy that I found energy and that fighting moment, that I had to fight no matter what,” Azarenka said.