Azarenka books final spot
World No.1 digs deep to overcome Sharapova in US Open semis
Last Updated: September 8, 2012 12:45am
Victoria Azarenka fought back from a set down to defeat Maria Sharapova and reach her maiden US Open final at Flushing Meadows.
The world No.1 from Belarus rallied after a storming start from 2006 champion Sharapova to post a 3-6 6-2 6-4 victory in just under three hours on Arhur Ashe Stadium.
Azarenka's win sets up a final with Serena Williams on Saturday and ends Sharapova's two-year winning streak in three-set matches where she has taken the first set.
The contest was a rematch of this year's Australian Open final, with Sharapova having made the better start on that occasion before Azarenka took control, winning 12 of the last 13 games en route to her breakthrough major title.
The Russian again was the more solid in the early stages in New York, and this time she kept it going, turning a 3-0 lead into 5-1 and the opportunity to serve for the opening set.
Sharapova wobbled and looked like she would lose her advantage completely when Azarenka had two chances to reduce the deficit to 5-4, her opponent throwing in two double faults in the windy conditions.
But the world number one, who hit only one winner in the opening set, could not take her opportunity and Sharapova clinched it with her first ace of the match.
Azarenka's superior movement had taken her opponent out of the game in Melbourne but here Sharapova was powering away winners and gaining plenty of points with her serve.
The third seed had survived real battles against Nadia Petrova and Marion Bartoli to make it to the last four, while Azarenka prevailed in a third set tie-break against defending champion Sam Stosur in the quarter-finals.
This match did not look like it would be close when the Belarusian hooked a forehand well wide to be broken again at the start of the second set, but from there things slowly turned around.
Sharapova dropped serve twice in succession, with Azarenka now giving her opponent a lot fewer free points, and the top seed was clearly extremely pumped up as she powered away a forehand to level matters.
Because of the heat, the players took a 10-minute break, but something had to give - Sharapova was unbeaten in 12 three-set matches this year and Azarenka 11, and the shrieking and intensity increased as they traded blows.
The first two sets had been too error strewn to really captivate but the start of the decider was on another level, particularly in a lengthy third game where Sharapova eventually held serve.
Sharapova was certainly under the most pressure but she continued to cling on and the deciding set had been going for more than an hour when she served to stay in the match at 4-5.
It was a game too far. Azarenka missed with a forehand down the line on her first match point but a second one followed and this time Sharapova drilled a forehand long.
Speaking afterwards, a delighted Azarenka told Sky Sports: "It was difficult because Maria is an incredible fighter. I couldn't find my rhythm but I stayed focus, stepped it up and played more aggressive. The momentum then changed and I stayed on it.
"I was just trying to grab the first opportunity that I had. Maria is such a great player. I knew she would come out firing and she did. I tried to find my rhythm and just fight.
"I tried to give whatever it takes. I knew my opponent was going to play hard so I had to play harder. I gave it my all. I guess it worked. It's my first final and I'm so excited."