MADRID (Reuters) - Victoria Azarenka and Serena Williams will square off for the Madrid Open title after the current and former world number ones swept into the final with a minimum of fuss on Saturday.
Australian Open champion Azarenka took a step closer to a fifth title of 2012 when she dispatched Agnieszka Radwanska 6-2 6-4, before Williams, seeded ninth at the premier event in the Spanish capital, crushed Czech qualifier Lucie Hradecka 7-6 6-0.
Belarussian Azarenka has now beaten third-ranked Pole Radwanska six times in six meetings this year and rarely looked troubled as she seeks to improve on her runners-up finish last year to Petra Kvitova.
She battered 29 winners on the blue clay of the Manolo Santana show court, each accompanied by a trademark shriek of effort, before reflecting on her 6-1 losing record against Williams, who last topped the rankings in October 2010.
“I was much younger and just coming on the tour (for many of our matches) but I have always been competitive against her and she is one of the toughest opponents to play against,” Azarenka told a news conference.
“It’s going to be a different story this time,” the 22-year-old, who was beaten 6-1 7-6 by Williams in the U.S. Open third round last year, added.
“We had a very good match last year at the U.S. Open so I can take some of the positive things out of that and it’s going to be the first time I play her on clay so we’ll see.”
Azarenka has already netted more than $4 million in prize money this year and her only two defeats in 36 matches were to Frenchwoman Marion Bartoli in the last eight in Miami and Maria Sharapova in the Stuttgart final.
On a muggy morning in Madrid, a mere handful of spectators turned out to watch the match in the futuristic Caja Magica (Magic Box) arena, which started around 0900 GMT.
However, with the sliding roof open to the dull grey sky, the stadium filled out for the second semi-final as Hradecka went toe-to-toe with Williams in a closely-fought first set when neither player managed a break of serve.
The 105th-ranked Czech was through to the last four of a premier-level event for the first time and after losing the tiebreak 7-5 her challenge fell away as Williams gave herself a chance of a second title of the season following her success on clay at Charleston last month.
By reaching the final, the American 13-times grand slam singles champion, 30, is projected to climb to six in the rankings above Bartoli and Dane Caroline Wozniacki, another former number one.
“I have been working really hard but I don’t want to stop at number six and I want to continue to do better,” Williams told a news conference.
”Victoria obviously has been playing this whole year so consistent, so amazing and just nearly perfect so I am going into the final with nothing to lose.
“She’s the top-ranked player and she’s going in there with everything to win.”
Editing by Pritha Sarkar