WORLD NUMBER ONE Victoria Azarenka, the reigning Australian Open champion, will try to become the first women’s top seed to win the US Open title since 2007 after ousting Maria Sharapova to reach the final.
In a rematch of the Australian Open final where she beat Sharapova to win her first Grand Slam title, the 23-year-old from Belarus rallied to defeat the Russian third seed 3-6, 6-2, 6-4.
“I was just trying to grab the first opportunity,” Azarenka said. “Maria is such a great player. She came out firing and didn’t give me a chance to get into a rhythm. I just kept fighting with all my heart.”
No women’s top seed has won the US Open since Justine Henin five years ago. No top seed has won any Grand Slam women’s crown since Williams in 2010 at Wimbledon.
This is the first time a US Open women’s final four has included the year’s prior Grand Slam champions — Azarenka, Wimbledon and Olympic winner Williams and Sharapova, who completed a career Grand Slam with her Roland Garros title.
Azarenka improved to 12-0 in three-set matches this season while inflicting Sharapova’s first three-set defeat in 13 such matches in 2012.
“A lot of it had to do with the returns,” Sharapova said. “I wasn’t doing much on her service games. I was making too many errors and not putting any pressure on her.”
Sharapova hit 44 winners but made 42 unforced errors. Azarenka had 19 of each.
Azarenka, who will remain World No. 1 next week no matter who wins the US Open, had never been beyond the fourth round in New York until this year but will play for her fifth title of the year and the 13th of her career.
An extra-long break before the third set for excessive heat helped build the drama at Arthur Ashe Stadium, Azarenka practicing with the help of a ball boy as Sharapova went off the court to cool off after dropping the second set.
Sharapova fought off two break points in the fourth game, battled nearly 10 minutes to hold in the sixth but finally surrendered her serve in the final game to fall after two hours and 42 minutes.
“I was trying not to focus on the score,” Azarenka said. “I wanted to give whatever it takes. I knew my opponent was going to play hard. I knew I was going to have to play harder.”
Sharapova, who will rise to World No. 2 in next week’s rankings, has not reached a US Open final since winning the title in 2006 and failed to become the first woman to reach three Slam finals in the same year since 2006.
“It’s frustrating but that’s the game of tennis,” Sharapova said. “A lot of swings in the match. She picked up her game in the third.”
Sharapova broke in the second game of the opening set and broke again at love for a 5-1 edge, but double faulted away a break in the seventh game and gave Azarenka two break points in the ninth before finally taking the set in 40 minutes with her first ace, a 107-mph blast up the middle.
Sharapova, 25, double faulted away a break to hand the ponytailed top seed a 3-1 lead in the second set and Azarenka broke again in the last game to force a third set.
Meanwhile, three-time champion Serena Williams cruised into her sixth US Open final on Friday with a 6-1, 6-2 mauling of Italian Sara Errani and will tackle Azarenka in the final.
Williams, the Wimbledon and Olympic champion, will be looking to capture a 15th Grand Slam singles title in Saturday’s title match which she has reached for the loss of just 19 games.
She will take a 9-1 winning record into the final against top-seeded Australian Open winner Azarenka.
“I love playing here. It’s always an honour, every time I play here is such a pleasure,” said Williams, who was just 17 when she won her first US Open title 13 years ago.
“It’s awesome to be back in the final again. I dreamt about this all year and I am really happy. It’ll be great to win again, but Victoria also wants it. But hey, I’m the last American standing, so come on guys.”