SYDNEY – Germany's Angelique Kerber beat Australia's Ashleigh Barty in straight sets to win the Sydney International for her ninth consecutive win on Saturday ahead of next week's Australian Open.
The former world No.1 was too strong for Barty, winning the final 6-4, 6-4 to give her a massive confidence boost for the year's opening Grand Slam in Melbourne.
It was Kerber's first title since the 2016 US Open and was the left-hander's second win over the 19th-ranked Barty in three meetings.
Kerber, who began last year as No.1 before finishing at No.22, continued her 2018 resurgence and remains unbeaten this year.
"I had a great week. I played good tennis," Kerber said.
"The final against Ash was not easy, but I was able to play my game in important moments. So I'm really happy and proud to win the first title in 2018.
"It's just the beginning of the year, but I think I'm getting closer to my best the level again and just trying to focus from match to match and trying to play again my tennis like I played in the last years, especially 2016."
Kerber won her four matches at last week's mixed teams Hopman Cup in Perth before her five victories in Sydney.
Kerber claimed the first break of the match for a 3-2 lead, an advantage she would not relinquish as she went on to take the opening set.
Barty was in further trouble when she immediately surrendered serve in the second set, but in the second game she broke back to level at 1-1, igniting the home crowd.
Kerber and Barty went on service until the seventh game, when the German broke after a loose Barty game when she lost serve to love with a forehand into the net.
With the break in hand and a 4-3 lead, the German didn't falter, remaining aggressive and serving out the match three games later to win her first title in Sydney after falling in the 2014 final.
It is her 11th career WTA title and positions her as one of the favourites for the Australian Open.
It was the first time an Australian woman featured in the Sydney International final since 2005 when Alicia Molik took the title over Sam Stosur.
"I felt like it was a pretty good level. To be honest, I felt like I probably played some of the better tennis that I have this week," Barty said.
"And Angie is on fire. She's such a competitor and makes you work so hard for each point. I certainly felt like it was a pretty good level for a final."
Barty said she would be ready for her Australian Open first round opponent Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus.
"I'm drawn to play Tuesday so the preparation is slightly different as if I was playing on Monday," Barty said.
"But we will head to Melbourne tonight and do what we need to do over the next couple of days to get ready."