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Serena leads US into final

Perth: Serena Williams sounded a klaxon warning just nine days before the Australian Open on Friday when she pounded Kim Clijsters into submission at the Hopman Cup mixed team event.

While in-form Clijsters has been practising hard in Australia for the past month, world number one Williams only arrived Down Under at the beginning of the week. Yet the American clubbed Clijsters 7-5, 6-3 before teaming up with James Blake to lead the top-seeded US into Saturday’s final.

Clijsters’s team mate Xavier Malisse had put the brakes on the US charge, finally finding the ‘X-factor’ to flatten Blake 7-6, 6-2 and push the tie into a decisive mixed doubles.

But Williams would not be denied, kept Blake’s spirits up and led her team through with a 7-6, 3-6, 10-5 match tie-break victory.

“I told James, 'We better win or else,'” Williams smiled, waving her fist at her partner afterwards. “I’m definitely enjoying myself...having a great time here.”

They will face second seeds Australia in the title match.

Williams’s victory — sweet revenge for her loss to world number four Clijsters in the season-ending WTA Championships last November — sent a strong message to the rest of the Australian Open field.

Holder of the French Open, Wimbledon and US Open crowns, Williams needs the Australian crown to complete what she is already calling a “Serena slam”.

On Friday she showed she is getting on track right on time, although, as ever, she expects more from herself.

“I am not at the level or anywhere near the level I need to be,” she said. “But you can’t be too hard on yourself... especially when you are playing a tough player like Kim.”

Power cut

The start of play was delayed by 45 minutes by another power cut at the Burswood Dome but once the pair got on court Williams tore from the blocks, swinging hard and rocking the Belgian back on her heels.

She broke in the opening game, held comfortably and broke again as Clijsters struggled to contain the American’s power.

In the fourth game, though, Clijsters’ errant forehand return clicked into place and she nicked a break point with one down the line before Williams slapped a backhand into the tramlines to drop her own serve.

Boosted, the Belgian reeled off her service game to love to trail 2-3 as Williams tried and failed to power her way out of trouble.

Riding the momentum, Clijsters broke again as Williams refused to change her tactics, hitting harder and harder even though her control seemed momentarily paralysed.

The more Williams hit out, the more Clijsters tied her up with tight, accurate shot-making, and the Belgian eased ahead 4-3 to complete the reversal of fortunes.

Serving once more to stop the rot, Williams finally reined back and reaped the rewards, drawing level for 4-4. She broke again for a 5-4 lead but could not close out. Two games later, though, she did and clinched the set 7-5.

Once ahead, the American settled into her rhythm in the second set while Clijsters struggled further to find her range in the face of such power hitting.

She strolled into a 4-0 lead before Clijsters could get on the board again and eventually sealed it 6-3.

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