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Grunt match

Top-seeded Victoria Azarenka of Belarus reached her first US Open final on Friday by winning an ear-splitting battle of power and nerve against Maria Sharapova. Quick bites

sports Updated: Sep 09, 2012 01:46 IST
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Top-seeded Victoria Azarenka of Belarus reached her first US Open final on Friday by winning an ear-splitting battle of power and nerve against Maria Sharapova.

Azarenka overcame a lackluster opening set to beat third-seeded former champion Sharapova of Russia 3-6, 6-2, 6-4 on Friday and set up a US Open finals showdown with Serena Williams.

The semi-finals tilt was a rematch of their clash in this year’s Australian Open final, but it was nothing like the 6-3 6-0 rout registered by Azarenka in claiming the crown in Melbourne for her maiden grand slam title. http://www.hindustantimes.com/Images/Popup/2012/9/09-09-12-pg-22a.jpg

Each player took their turn dominating in the opening two sets before settling into an exciting battle in the third set, which Azarenka claimed with a lone service break in the last game when Sharapova sent a forehand long from deuce.

After dropping her raccqet in euphoric disbelief, Azarenka did her signature shuffle dance and blew kisses to the Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd after shaking hands at the net.

“I’m definitely really proud of what I achieved today,” Azarenka said after her two-hour, 42-minute victory. French Open winner Sharapova was pressured throughout the final set, taken to two deuces on her serve in the second game, to five deuces in the fourth and to four deuces in the sixth, but the Russian held Azarenka off valiantly before succumbing in the last game. “I was just trying to find my rhythm and just fight,” said Azarenka, the first player from Belarus to reach the Open final. “I tried to give whatever it takes. Give it all.”

Girls aloud

The 6-foot Azarenka and 6’2” Sharapova are two of the more powerful hitters in women’s tennis.

But unless forced, they refuse to do anything but blast shots from behind the baseline, rarely attacking the net, volleying, slicing, varying the tempo or employing tactics other than bludgeoning the ball. And when it comes to decibel level, they have no peer, shrieking every time they strike the ball. Even before Friday’s first point, CBS commentator Mary Carillo predicted “a grunt-a-palooza.” But the match was more like an operatic screech-fest, in which two sopranos were being strangled to death for 2 hours 42 minutes.

Sharapova came out blazing, breaking Azarenka’s serve twice and holding her own shaky serve to take a 5-1 lead. Azarenka was tentative, by contrast, seemingly seized by nerves.

Sharapova rolled on, breaking Azarenka to open the second set. But with a chance to win in straight sets, Sharapova coughed up a clutch of double-faults. The serve has been Sharapova’s chief vulnerability since she had shoulder surgery in 2008. She has retooled her service motion, but remains prone to double-faulting at critical junctures. It cost her any chance at salvaging the second set, particularly with Azarenka gaining confidence. The third set lasted 74 minutes, longer than the entire Williams-Errani match.

Ruthless Serena

Williams was at her ruthless best as she demolished Italian Sara Errani 6-1, 6-2 to continue her golden. The 30-year-old American overpowered the diminutive Errani, registering 38 winners, including nine aces.

Williams cut loose with a squeal of joy after ending the 64-minute match with a second-serve ace.