Serena Williams roars, Victoria Azarenka rallies into U.S. Open final

Victoria AzarenkaMaria SharapovaSara ErraniSerena WilliamsU.S. OpenWimbledon ChampionshipsDiane Pucin

NEW YORK — In less time than it took Victoria Azarenka to win a third set over Maria Sharapova, Serena Williams pounded her way to a 6-1, 6-2 U.S. Open semifinal victory over defenseless Italian Sara Errani on Friday.

The 30-year-old Williams, who is seeded fourth, will play top-seeded and top-ranked Azarenka in Saturday's final. Azarenka conquered Sharapova, 3-6, 6-2, 6-4, winning a 2-hour 42-minute semifinal in which the third set lasted 1:14.

Williams won her match against Errani in 64 minutes. And it took that long only because Williams dawdled in the second set. She had won the first in 30 minutes.

There were times in the match when it seemed Williams' serve, which reached 119 mph, might knock over the 5-foot-41/2 Errani.

While Azarenka might be the top-ranked player, Williams has a 9-1 career advantage over the 23-year-old from Belarus, and last seven meetings.

"Our record says it all," Azarenka said. "I need to find something to surprise her [Saturday]. Because she's in great form, feeling really confident. She has everything on her side."

Williams, who served nine aces and hit 38 winners to move within one victory of her 15th Grand Slam tournament title, certainly has Errani on her side.

"I think she's the best," said Errani, who managed only 16 winners. "For me, I think she is incredible. The way she wants to win, when she plays like this, I think she's the best player in the world."

Williams said her level Friday was moving in a positive direction, despite 21 unforced errors.

"I played better today," said Williams, who won the Wimbledon title and an Olympic gold medal in singles in London earlier this summer. "I played better than my other matches. I did make some errors but I was more consistent than I felt I had been."

Just as Errani was full of praise for Williams, Sharapova accepted her come-from-ahead loss to Azarenka gracefully.

"She picked up her game, the 25-year-old Russian said. "A lot of it had to do with service returns. And I didn't do much on her service games."

"I was just trying to grab opportunities," Azarenka said. "Just trying to find my rhythm and not give her too many chances."

Sharapova had started against Azarenka as if she might race to the final as fast as Williams would later. She jumped to a 5-1 lead and had a chance to win the first set on her serve. But Sharapova, who often serves up double faults in bunches, served two in a row in the seventh game and was broken.

Azarenka had done little to that point except stand still and watch, and Sharapova's faulty serving was enough for Azarenka to take a fingertip of momentum. Though Azarenka lost the first set, she began more and more to hit deeply into the corners and make Sharapova run.

Azarenka notched the one and only service break of the third set in the final game. She put Sharapova at a quick deficit, 0-30, by keeping her returns deep and forcing the Russian out of position. On the final point, after too much retrieving, Sharapova pushed a forehand long.

As for what comes next, Azarenka was forthright. She needs to make changes against Williams.

"I've got to do something different," she said, "because the other times didn't really work for me. I have to try and make sure I'm the one who kind of dictates the play and control the match as much as possible."

Errani, for one, doesn't have any good ideas for her. "Azarenka is a strong player," Errani said. "I think Serena is another level."

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