Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Serena motors into Madrid final

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MADRID, Spain -- Serena Williams will meet top-ranked Victoria Azarenka in the final of the Madrid Open after both players dispensed with their rivals in straight sets on Saturday.

Williams beat Lucie Hradecka 7-6 (5), 6-0 on the new blue-clay court and Azarenka ousted fourth-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska 6-2, 6-4.

On the men's side, Tomas Berdych beat Juan Martin del Potro 7-6 (5), 7-6 (6) to set up a final against the winner of the other semifinal between Roger Federer and Janko Tipsarevic.

The ninth-seeded Williams will play for her second title of the season. Azarenka has won four tournaments so far.

"Victoria has been so consistent in her game this year," said Williams. "She is so consistent, so amazing and so, just nearly perfect. I am going to the final with nothing to lose."

Williams holds a 6-1 head-to-head record against Azarenka, whose only win came in 2009. This will be the first time they meet on clay.

"She's one of the best players in the world and one of the toughest opponents to play against so we'll see, but as I said it's going to be a different story," Azarenka said.

While both Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic promised to never play again on the blue clay, neither of the finalists on the women's side saw their big-hitting style overly hampered by the new surface many players have criticized as slippery.

Williams held off the tenacious Czech's seven early aces in the first set that she won in a tiebreaker. She then broke Hradecka three times in the second to cruise to her 12th consecutive win on clay this season.

"She just did everything really well and I was able to come through in the tiebreaker," said Williams. "After that I was able to relax, to make less errors and make more shots and be more aware out there."

The 105th-ranked Hradecka had upset defending champion Petra Kvitova and U.S. Open winner Sam Stosur to reach the semifinals.

Azarenka was in good form and had little trouble beating Radwanska for the sixth straight time. She hit a deep return to set up a slam and break her Polish opponent's first service game. She went on to hit 14 winners and held for love to wrap up the first set. The players traded a pair of breaks in the second set before Azarenka, the runner-up last year, won a decisive third break with a crosscourt return.

"(Radwanska and I) keep meeting each other," said the 22-year-old Belarusian. "I'm glad to win today. The score maybe wasn't so close, but it was a good match."

The sixth-seeded Berdych, who hadn't won a set in his last three matches he lost to Del Potro, used his big serve and hit 15 aces to overcome the Argentine's skilled baseline game.

Del Potro unleashed a perfectly placed passing shot to break Berdych for the first time in the tournament and pulled ahead 3-1. He then had a chance to serve out the first set, but Berdych broke for love to pull even and won the tiebreaker.

Ahead in the score, Berdych kept the pressure at the beginning of the second by taking Del Potro's first service game.

Del Potro broke back, but Berdych persevered again in the final tiebreaker.

Today's final will be the Czech player's first since he won in Montpellier in January.

Federer can displace Rafael Nadal as the world's second-ranked player if he wins the Madrid tournament for a third time.

Nadal lost to Fernando Verdasco in the third round on Thursday.

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 13, 2012 B7

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