FLUSHING MEADOWS, N.Y. - Top-ranked Victoria Azarenka overcame former world No. 1 Maria Sharapova on Friday to reach her first-ever U.S. Open final.
In a rematch of this year's Australian Open final, the Belarusian Azarenka came back to beat the third-seeded Russian superstar 3-6, 6-2, 6-4 at Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Azarenka's opponent in Saturday night's final will be American great Serena Williams, who was June's surprise French Open runner-up to Sharapova.
The fourth-seeded Williams overwhelmed 10th-seeded Italian Sara Errani, posting a 6-1, 6-2 victory in just 63 minutes. She closed out the lopsided match with her ninth ace.
A 14-time Grand Slam winner, Williams has lost only 19 games en route to her sixth U.S. Open final. She was a runner-up to Aussie Samantha Stosur last year, dropping her record to 3-2 in championship matches at the year's final major.
Azarenka and Sharapova, meanwhile, split the first two sets on Friday, with neither stanza being all that competitive. But things heated up in the third.
The Belarusian edged out to a 5-4 lead in the final set by holding serve, and broke the Russian in the next game to advance. Azarenka blew a match point, leading 5-4, 40-30, when she misfired wide on a forehand down the line.
But two points later, on her second match point, Azarenka cashed in when Sharapova sent one final forehand long after 2 hours, 42 minutes of entertaining tennis.
Sharapova swatted eight aces, but also piled up a whopping 10 double faults to hurt her own cause. Azarenka broke Sharapova five times, while the Russian veteran settled for three breaks on Day 12 of the fortnight.
The disappointed Sharapova had 25 more winners (44-19), but also committed 23 more unforced errors (42-19).
The 23-year-old Azarenka is now 12-0 in three-set matches this year, while Sharapova fell to 12-1.
Azarenka improved to 6-4 lifetime against Sharapova, including 3-1 this year. Their first three meetings of 2012 all came in finals, with the Belarusian winning two of them.
"I felt like towards the end of the first I was kind of getting a little bit better, you know, trying to find the momentum and getting more and more comfortable in the match," Azarenka said. "So even though I lost the first set I felt like it was close. I had a few opportunities; I missed them."
The 25-year-old Sharapova enjoyed her best U.S. Open since capturing her lone title here back in 2006. The tall Russian completed a career Grand Slam with a French Open title a few months ago and lost to Williams in the Olympic gold- medal match last month.
Azarenka will appear in her second career Grand Slam final, with both coming this year. She's 4-2 in her overall finals in 2012.
Williams is 9-1 lifetime against Azarenka.
"Toughest opponent there is in the draw, and being in the final makes it even more difficult," said Azarenka about Williams. "So definitely going to be a tough one."