Brisbane: World No.1 Victoria Azarenka is to play No.3 Serena Williams in the first top-ten clash of the new WTA season after the American reached the semi-finals of the Brisbane International here on Thursday.
Williams faced stiff resistance from young Floridian Sloane Stephens on her way to a 6-4, 6-3 quarter-final win, after Azarenka earlier crushed qualifier Ksenia Pervak 6-1, 6-0.
Stephens put her more illustrious opponent under pressure in the first set, but faltered at the key moments, most notably a break point while leading 4-3 that Williams saved before closing out the set with crashing, laser-accurate forehands.
Williams, who has yet to drop a set in three matches, enjoyed an even duel with Stephens early in the second before pulling away at 3-3 to take the win.
Azarenka, the 2009 Brisbane champion, has won just one of her 12 meetings with Williams, that coming in 2009 in Miami.
The other semi-final pits Russia's world No.36 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova against Ukraine's Lesia Tsurenko, a lucky loser from qualifying who only entered the main draw as a late replacement for the injured Maria Sharapova.
The Brisbane International is a $1 million premier hard-court tournament that is the highest-paying women's event before the Australian Open later this month.