WIMBLEDON, Great Britain -- Victoria Azarenka of Belarus will play for her third Grand Slam mixed doubles title -- and her first in over a decade -- after she and her British partner Jamie Murray overwhelmed the British wild card team of Harriet Dart and Jay Clarke, 6-2, 6-2, in 55 minutes at Wimbledon on Friday.
Azarenka and Murray will meet the 11th-seeded pairing of American Nicole Melichar and Austria's Alexander Peya, who dispatched No.9 seeds Katarina Srebotnik of Slovenia and Michael Venus of New Zealand, 6-4, 6-4.
It was Melichar's second huge win of the day, as she had earlier advanced to the women's doubles final alongside Czech partner Kveta Peschke, meaning the American will play the first two Grand Slam finals of her career within the span of one weekend.
Playing for a place in the mixed doubles final...@Jay27798 and @harriet_dart take on @jamie_murray and @vika7 on No.1 Court#Wimbledon pic.twitter.com/nft8fVAEyR
— Wimbledon (@Wimbledon) July 13, 2018
Unlike Melichar, Azarenka has myriad experience in Grand Slam finals, as the former World No.1 and two-time Australian Open singles champion also has three women's doubles runner-up plates to go with her two mixed doubles championships. This is the first time Azarenka has made it this far in the Wimbledon mixed doubles event, but she exhibited no nerves as she and Murray swept to victory.
Murray, who won the Wimbledon mixed doubles last year with Martina Hingis, as well as ten years prior to that with Jelena Jankovic, has been a stalwart partner for Azarenka, although he nearly faltered at the start of Friday's semifinal, falling behind double break point in his first service game, before holding for 1-1 after an Azarenka putaway closed out the game.
Spurred on by that survival, the Belarusian/British tandem took the first break of the match in the next game, with Azarenka breaking Dart via a beautiful service return which led to a volley error from the young British woman.
Clarke, 19, and Dart, 21, demonstrated powerful groundstrokes throughout the match, which make them potential future standard-bearers for British tennis. However, they were unable to garner a foothold while returning in the opening set, and fell behind 5-2 after Dart's service was broken for a second time -- despite acing Murray twice.
A 54-minute victory...@jamie_murray will defend his mixed doubles title with his playing partner @vika7 after beating British duo Jay Clarke and Harriet Dart 6-2, 6-2#Wimbledon pic.twitter.com/bzIM8BgU4P
— Wimbledon (@Wimbledon) July 13, 2018
With Azarenka serving for the set, Dart sent a rocketing forehand passing winner down the line on the first point of the game, but the steely Belarusian was completely unfazed, reaching double set point with two big serves in the next three points, and closing out the set with her second ace of the game.
Azarenka, indeed, was the most consistent member of the foursome, cruising through her service games with ease, as her game continues to round into form after giving birth to son Leo. Dart dropped serve again to hand Azarenka and Murray a 2-1 lead, as the Belarusian/British team continued to attack Dart's serve before she or Clarke could attempt one of their solid groundstrokes.
Former ATP doubles World No.1 Murray was much more solid on his serve in the second set, dropping only one point in two service games and extending his team's lead to 4-2. The pair broke Dart once more after one of the British woman's forehands sailed long, giving Azarenka the opportunity to serve for the match at 5-2.
Azarenka had been untouchable on serve during the match, and the final game was no exception, reaching triple match point after a Dart return flew long. An excellent service return by the talented Clarke helped the wild cards fend off one match point, but another powerful serve by Azarenka on the second was returned into the net by Dart, sending Azarenka and Murray into the title match.
Meanwhile, 38-year-old Peya is an experienced doubles player -- a former World No.3 and US Open men's doubles finalist -- who is still looking for his first Grand Slam title of any kind. The Austrian has reached the mixed doubles championship match at Wimbledon before, pairing with Timea Babos to a runner-up finish in 2015, where they fell to Martina Hingis and Leander Paes.
Melichar and Peya were ruthless on first serve during the match, winning 27 of their 28 first service points throughout the encounter, and they overcame nine aces by their opponents en route to the 52-minute victory. The American/Austrian duo converted the only break point of the opening frame, on Srebotnik's serve, to jump out to the one-set lead.
It was Srebotnik who dropped serve again at 1-1 in the second, squandering a 40-0 lead to eventually give Melichar and Peya multiple break points. After four deuces, a Melichar backhand winner set up the third break point of the game, and Srebotnik then threw in a double fault to hand over the critical break.
Melichar and Peya never looked back from there, dropping only a single point in their next four service games as they charged towards victory. Peya was tasked with serving for the match at 5-4, and Melichar put them at triple match point with a perfect volley winner. Venus sent a service return long on the first match point, giving Peya a chance for a first Grand Slam title, and continuing Melichar's magical fortnight.