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Azarenka Regroups, Beats Clijsters In SFs

Victoria Azarenka outdid Kim Clijsters in three sets to reach her very first Grand Slam final.

Published January 26, 2012 12:00

Azarenka Regroups, Beats Clijsters In SFs
Victoria Azarenka

MELBOURNE, Australia - Victoria Azarenka showed some impressive mental fortitude in the first semifinal of the Australian Open Thursday, rebounding from a second set blowout to beat Kim Clijsters and reach her first Grand Slam final.

After getting an early break and riding it for a 6-4 first set, Azarenka, the No.3 seed, lost her way, offsetting five winners with a whopping 16 unforced errors to lose the second set to the No.11-seeded Clijsters, 6-1. But she regrouped right away, winning the first two games of the decider and never falling behind again.

Clijsters made a last stand in the seventh game to get the break back, but Azarenka broke again for 5-3 and held serve comfortably for the 64 16 63 win.

"I really wanted it bad," Azarenka said. "There were a lot of ups and downs, but in a good way. She was coming up with some incredible shots and I was really going for it. It was important to get that 5-3 lead and keep putting pressure on.

"It was difficult to get back in the match, to keep fighting and to keep going, but that's what it's all about. And I was really, really happy to win the match."

While Clijsters' forehand was the best shot of the match, with a -1 differential (16 to 17), her backhand was the most erratic, going -15 (7 to 22). Azarenka's shots were in between: her forehand was -7 (9 to 16) and her backhand -10 (5 to 15).

Azarenka's best Slam had been a semifinal at Wimbledon last year, where she fell to Petra Kvitova. She is now the second Belarusian ever to reach a Grand Slam final, but the first such instance may not be one she'll want to repeat: Natasha Zvereva's 60 60 loss to Steffi Graf in the 1988 French Open final.

Azarenka is now 11-0 on the season and was asked about the belief she has in her game. "There's a difference between saying it and feeling it," the 22-year-old said. "You really have to trust. You really have to feel it. You can't just say you believe you're going to do it, you have to work your way through it and always try to make that extra during practice, because it's not coming in one day.

"Even if you believe one million percent, it's not going to happen. It's a lot of hard work. Those details you make away from the match make you really believe."

Clijsters, who was the defending champion here and was 8-7 in Grand Slam semifinals going into the match, has said this will be her last Australian Open.

"I'm disappointed. There were a few deciding moments where I had a bit of an advantage, like that first game of the third set where I had break point," Clijsters said. "But she definitely played really well. She was playing very aggressive tennis and moving really well, so she deserved to win this match at the end.

"It's unfortunate when you get so close. I know I'm capable of beating all these girls, but it's whoever's better on the day who wins and gets to go through.

"But I could have been home already. I feel that I gave it 200%, so in that way I really don't feel like I could have done anything differently these two weeks."

Clijsters was asked whether she thought about it being her last time here when she was walking off the court. "The loss is too fresh to think about something else," the 28-year-old said. "I'm sure it will sink in in the next couple of days."

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