Victoria Azarenka defeated Maria Sharapova 3-6, 6-2, 6-4 on Friday at the US Open to reach her second Grand Slam final of the season with Serena Williams now lying in wait.
World number one Azarenka of Belarus has a chance to claim her second Grand Slam title after winning her first at the Australian Open over Sharapova in January.
Williams, who crushed French Open finalist Sara Errani 6-1, 6-2, has beaten Azarenka in nine of 10 meeting, with the European winning only in 2009. Williams is looking for a fourth New York title after winning her last in 2008.
The powerful American fourth seed rolled Errani in one hour, with the overpowered Italian saving a match point and passing to hold for 2-5 in the second set.
Williams, winner of 14 Grand Slam singles titles, advanced a game later after firing her ninth ace in a match where she struck 38 winners.
“I definitely played better today, than I played in my other matches,” said Williams. “I did make some errors, but I was more consistent than I felt I was in the past.” Azarenka trailed 1-5 in the opening set as Sharapova got off to a flying start on a sunny afternoon. The top seed was able to fight back to 2-5 before Sharapova lifted the 40-minute opener with an ace.
The pair traded heavy groundstokes in the second set, Azarenka recovering from a break in the opening game and then breaking the Sharapova serve twice in succession for 3-1.Azaranka held her margin to level the sets on her second opportunity with a smash.
The third set was equally tense for both women, with Sharapova winning a tight and lengthy fourth game comprising five deuces and three break points as she held for 2-2 with her sixth ace.
But Azarenka got the last word with a break of Sharapova in the final game after the Russian third seed had come from 0-30 down and saved a match point.
Azarenka won the battle of notable tennis shriekers on her second chance as her opponent sent a forehand return long over the baseline after just under two and a half hours.
“In the first set, I was just trying to grab every opportunity,” said Azarenka, who started the WTA season with a 26-match winning streak. “Maria is such a great player, she came out firing.
“She was placing the ball well, I had no chance to get into the match. But I just kept trying to find my rhythm and fighting hard.
“I wasn’t focussing on the score, I was just trying to give whatever it took. She was playing hard and I had to do the same. I gave my all, I guess that helped me to finally pull it out.” No matter what the outcome of the Saturday night final, Azarenka will maintain her spot atop the WTA rankings. The Belarus player is into her seventh final of 2012 as she aims for a fifth trophy of the season.
Sharapova ended with eight aces among her 44 winners. Azarenka broke five times and was evenly balanced on 19 winners and 19 unforced errors.
“It’s frustrating, but it’s the game of tennis,” said the Russian.
“There were a lot of swings in the match today. I certainly had the lead and the advantage.
“In the third I think a lot of it had to do with the returns. I didn’t do much on her service games. She was winning them pretty easy.”