ROME, Italy - (UPDATE) World number one Serena Williams swept Belarusian Victoria Azarenka aside 6-1, 6-3 to win her second Rome Open title on Sunday a week before a fresh tilt at the French Open.
Williams broke Azarenka's serve three times in a one-sided first set and despite a tighter second set the American prevailed to stretch her career-best winning streak to 24 matches.
It was Williams's 51st career title and took her victory tally over Azarenka, who beat the American earlier this season in the final of the Doha hardcourt event, to 12-2 in their series.
Azarenka had swept Sara Errani aside in the semi-final on Saturday with a powerful display of tennis which left the Italian, who only made the last four after Russian second seed Maria Sharapova pulled out, struggling to mount any kind of challenge.
However the tables were promptly turned on the third-seeded Belarusian, who found herself on the end of a Williams masterclass that has installed her as the favourite for next week's French Open at Roland Garros.
Williams, however, said the match was closer than the score suggested.
"It was very close, the first three games were over 20-25 minutes or so, so it wasn't really easy out there. Nothing is really easy," said the American.
"I just took the opportunities when I had them. I know she (Azarenka) did as well, but I came up with the good shots sometimes."
Williams had complained after her semi-final over Romanian qualifier Simona Halep that she had been unhappy with several elements of her game, prompting a lengthy practice after her match on Saturday.
Any hint of rustiness or nerves before the final were quickly put to bed.
Williams started in stunning fashion, breaking Azarenka's serve in the first game and going on to repeat that twice more on her way to a crushing 6-1 score.
Azarenka upped her game in the second but despite showing some signs of resistence early on, Williams's far more powerful serve and return left the Belarusian frustrated.
More often than not, the American required only two shots on her service game to take the required point, and Azarenka was given a warning by the umpire for an obscenity early in the second set.
Azarenka did earn herself a lifeline when she broke Williams in the seventh game after the American sent a backhand just outside the line.
But the top seed rattled off three consecutive games, including a break in the eighth game, before finishing off the job with a backhand winner down the line following two aces.
Azarenka agreed the match had been closer than the score suggested: "She played a very good match but I don't think the score tells the true story of the game."
But she admitted Williams had made the difference in the key moments.
"She definitely showed some more incredible tennis today... she's been playing her best tennis for the past year and a half or so," added the Belarusian.
"But today she played much better in the key moments of the match."
It is Williams's second title at Rome, having first won the event in 2002.
And after conceding defeat to Frenchwoman Virginie Razzano in last year's first round at Roland Garros, the American said she is taking a different approach this year.
"It's definitely different. It has to be," she said.
"I was feeling excellent last year and didn't do great. This year I'm more cautious. I want to work hard and stay focused and win every point hard and not slack at all."
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