INDIAN WELLS, CA, USA - In 2003, Serena Williams kicked off her season with three straight titles at the Australian Open, Paris and Miami, then extended her winning streak to 21 matches in reaching the final of Charleston.
Victoria Azarenka's start to 2012 is now officially better.
Azarenka, the No.1 player in the world, improved her perfect start to the year to 22-0 on Friday afternoon, keeping her calm through some tough early moments then winning nine of 12 games from 3-4 in the first set to end Angelique Kerber's Houdini-like run at the BNP Paribas Open in the semifinals, 64 63.
The No.18-seeded Kerber was nearly out of the tournament twice in the last week, coming back from 62 51 down against Sloane Stephens in the second round (saving two match points) and battling from 4-1 down in the third set against Christina McHale in the fourth round (saving three match points).
The top seed at the Premier-level event, Azarenka struggled at times with Kerber's lefty game and tireless retrieving, but in the end was just too powerful for the German in what was perhaps surprisingly their first career meeting.
"I'm really impressed by the way Angelique was playing," Azarenka said afterwards. "It was the first time we played on the pro tour, so it was a little bit new for me, and she showed some excellent tennis. I think she's a great player and she really pushed me to raise my level and really dig to win that match."
"I had some chances, but she's a great player and plays very well in those moments," Kerber said. "I think if I played my game and was being aggressive she would have made mistakes; but I was a little bit defensive and just put the ball in the court sometimes, and she played her game and made winners. I also think my serve wasn't the best today, and she really returns unbelievable.
"But I did everything I could, and it was a great tournament for me."
Azarenka now has the best start to a WTA season in 15 years - not since Martina Hingis in 1997 has anyone come out of the blocks better. That year, Hingis was an amazing 37-0 to start the year, winning six straight titles at Sydney, the Australian Open, Tokyo, Paris, Miami and Hilton Head, and then reaching the final of the French Open (where she lost to Iva Majoli).
Two of Kerber's countrywomen, Mona Barthel and Julia Goerges, had played Azarenka earlier in the tournament, and she went to them for advice - and Barthel actually almost beat Azarenka, having led 4-1 in the third set.
"Yesterday I spoke with Mona and Julia a little bit and just tried to make the tactics for today," she said. "But, I mean, it just didn't work."
Kerber has now reached seven semifinals in her last 11 WTA tournaments.