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WTA Rome Final Preview - Serena Williams v Victoria Azarenka

With Serena Williams currently on the longest winning run of her remarkable career, many people are beginning to wonder if anyone can beat her. Since losing in Doha, she has embarked on a run of 23 consecutive victories, winning titles in Miami, Charleston and Madrid. She has lost just four sets in that run.

However, tomorrow she comes up against the last player to beat her - Victoria Azarenka. The reigning Australian Open champion last week saw her unbeaten start to the year brought to a crashing end as she lost in three bad-tempered sets to Ekaterina Makarova, but this week has seen her reach another final, and another meeting with Serena Williams.

Their last meeting in Doha saw Azarenka snap a nine-match losing streak against the American as she won a high-quality match 6-3 in the third set. It provided the opportunity for Azarenka to atone for her defeat in last year's US Open final, where she served for the title before going down 7-5 in the final set.

Serena, though, is in sparkling form on the clay right now. Last week in Madrid, she clinched her first title on red clay in almost a decade and she has brought that form to Rome. Promising teenager, Laura Robson, was dispatched in the second round with a solid 13/11 W/UE ratio. In the quarter-final, Dominika Cibulkova, was blasted off the court in a hail of winners. 40 winners flew off the racket of Serena Williams in just 13 games, while she hit just 16 unforced errors.

The tricky Carla Suarez Navarro was the next victim of Serena as she took her total winners for the tournament to 79 compared to just 41 unforced errors. The semi-final started competitively as Simona Halep took an early lead, but once Serena was settled, there was only one winner. From *2-1 up, Halep would win just one more game in the match. 24 winners would take Serena past the 100 mark for the tournament.

Azarenka came past the potentially tricky Julia Goerges in the second round for the loss of just two games, before Ayumi Morita retired at 6-1, 2-0 down. Her quarter-final meeting against Sam Stosur was far more difficult. She struggled on serve, particularly behind her second serve, winning just 50% of points on serve and 41% on second serve. Just as worrying would have been the 34 unforced errors compared with just 14 winners.

However, come the semi-final against the dangerous Sara Errani, those problems seemed to be a thing of the past. In a blistering start, she hammered 10 winners and just 3 unforced errors to race into a 4-0 lead when the rain delayed play. The break was not to prove an issue as she closed out the bagel. While the second set was more competitive, Azarenka stayed solid to come through 6-0, 7-5. Her statistics of 37 winners to 22 unforced errors will be far more pleasing and reflects what she needs to do against Serena.

The key tomorrow will be the respective serves. Azarenka has often struggled to deal with Serena's first serve, just as so many players have in the past. In all their six meetings last year, Serena won over 75% of points behind the first serve. However, in their meeting in Doha earlier this year, this figure dropped below 70%. In the majority of their meetings last year, Azarenka was able to win over 50% of points on Serena's second serve, particularly by being aggressive with the return. If she is able to win a few extra points on the first serve, she will give herself a chance to reach break point.

However, she also needs to serve well herself. The key will be to get plenty of 1st serves into play, otherwise Serena will do to her second serve what she does to Serena's. She served at a solid 80% today against Sara Errani, winning 65% behind that first serve and she will need figures around those marks to beat Serena tomorrow.

While Serena will start the match as the overwhelming favourite, Victoria Azarenka is the only player that has beaten a fully fit Serena since Cincinnati last year. She almost beat her in Flushing Meadows and the win in Doha will have given her the confidence that she can live with Serena. Whether she can do it on clay is a different matter, but it should be an interesting final.

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