Azarenka Battles Past Sharapova In Thriller
Published September 07, 2012 12:00
NEW YORK, NY, USA - A resilient Victoria Azarenka became the first woman into the US Open final on Friday afternoon, battling to the bitter end to get past Maria Sharapova in three sets in the first semifinal of the day, 36 62 64.
Sharapova was the much sharper out of the two out of the blocks, racing out to a 5-1, double break lead in the first set. But with a few double faults and a slight dip in intensity the gap started closing, and although she still ended up taking the set, 6-3, the two games Azarenka squeaked out just before - and the double break point lead she had in that last game before Sharapova closed it out - hinted the next two sets on Ashe Stadium would be far more competitive.
"Towards the end of the first set I was getting a little bit better, getting more and more comfortable in the match," Azarenka said. "So even though I lost the first set, once it finished, I thought I could turn it around and start from zero."
Azarenka dropped serve in the first game of the second set but quickly regained the momentum she crafted at the end of the first set, winning six of the next seven games to run away with the second set, 6-2, and send it to a third.
Both players had been perfect in three-setters on the year - Azarenka 11-0, Sharapova 12-0 - but only one of them would maintain that perfection. And while the No.1-seeded Azarenka cruised through all of her service games in the third set the No.3-seeded Sharapova was made to work each and every time, and it caught up to her, as Azarenka snatched the first break of the third set in the final game, missing out on her first match point with a wide down-the-line forehand but a Sharapova forehand sailing long on the second match point.
"Maria is such a great player - I knew she'd come out firing, and she did, placing the ball very well and not giving me an opportunity to get into the match," Azarenka said. "I just tried to find my rhythm and grab my first opportunity.
"It was just fight, just heart. I'm definitely proud of what I achieved today."
And on her perfect record in three-setters? "I didn't know that statistic actually," she told Mary Joe Fernandez in her on-court interview. "I just try to focus on the match and give everything I have, and even if I lose, I know I gave it my all."
Azarenka is now in her second Grand Slam final, having won her first at the Australian Open earlier this year. "I don't want to leave - I want to play the final already!" she commented. "I guess I'll have to wait a little, though."
Sharapova expressed her feelings about the defeat afterwards in her presser.
"It's frustrating, but it's the game of tennis," Sharapova said. "A lot of swings in the match today. I had the lead and the advantage, but she picked up her game. And in the third set it had a lot to do with the returns. I didn't do much on her service games - she was winning them pretty easily. Mine were quite long.
"It's New York; it's a Grand Slam; it's the US Open. This is what you practice for, is to get in those situations and try to get out of them; today I just didn't."
But the Grand Slam season was still great for Sharapova, highlighted by winning the French Open, which gave her a career Grand Slam. "I'll take the results I had this year," she smiled. "I look back at the beginning of the season and remember going to Australia early and not really being sure if I was going to play that warm-up tournament because my ankle still wasn't feeling great. So if anyone had told me going into the Australian Open I would have this type of season - and it's still not over - I would have been pretty happy about it.
"I would have loved to get even further here at the last one of the year, but it's certainly a step better than the last few years I've been here."
And there is still a silver - or sprinkled - lining. "I've been in the city for three weeks and I'm looking forward to checking out the ice cream truck that's around the corner from my hotel. It's been haunting me. I'm telling the driver, like, 'Get out of here. I can't look at you anymore.' So I'll have some time for that."
What flavor? "Vanilla with rainbow sprinkles."