Published: Wednesday, 22 May 2013 10:17
Serena Williams completed her French Open preparations by beating Victoria Azarenka to win the Italian Open - her fourth consecutive tournament victory.
Williams, the world number one, powered to a 6-1 6-3 victory in Rome, extending her unbeaten run to 24 matches.
The American, 31, will head to Paris as a strong favourite to win the title at Roland Garros for only the second time.
Her victory at the Foro Italico on Sunday followed wins in Miami, South Carolina and Madrid.
A final tally of 41 winners to 12 illustrated the difference between Sunday's finalists, with Williams constantly threatening Azarenka and keeping her on the back foot.
Azarenka, 23, lost her number one ranking to Williams earlier this year and had won only two of their previous 13 encounters.
The Belarusian put up some stern resistance in the early stages but, despite repeatedly taking Williams to deuce in an opening three games that lasted more than 20 minutes, the American won them all.
Azarenka got one of the breaks back in game four but then immediately dropped serve to love under pressure from the Williams return.
When she slipped 5-1 down, the frustration boiled over for Azarenka as she smacked her racquet on the clay, and the set was done and dusted after 45 minutes.
Williams opened the second in similarly commanding style, pushing for another breakthrough and finally taking it to move 4-2 ahead and seemingly within sight of victory.
Azarenka briefly stemmed the tide with her second break of the match, but after a couple of blistering Williams forehands, the Belarusian double-faulted to hand over the next game.
Williams blasted down her seventh and eighth aces of the match to move to three championship points, and converted the first with a scream of delight after one hour and 33 minutes.
"It was very close," said Williams. "The first three games were over 20-25 minutes or so, so it wasn't really easy out there. Nothing is really easy.
"I just took the opportunities when I had them. I know she did as well, but I came up with the good shots sometimes."
Azarenka admitted: "She definitely showed some more incredible tennis today. She's been playing her best tennis for the past year-and-a-half or so.
"But today she played much better in the key moments of the match."
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