Azarenka advances to U.S. Open final

I tried to watch yesterday's semifinal between Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka very closely; I really did. Several times, however, my viewing was interrupted by this or that, and--I have to confess--I didn't really mind. I did see almost every shot, but after a while, I figured it was okay to be interrupted because it was the same thing, over and over, for two hours and 42 minutes. It made  me tired just to watch it. The two of them assaulted each other mercilessly from the baseline, but without any of the twists or whimsy (or beyond whimsy--think Frenchwoman) that is sometimes attached to these kinds of slug-outs.

The fact that stands out, though, is that Azarenka came from a set and a break down to win the match and to beat the woman she mercilessly stomped on in the Australian Open final. Sharapova was prepared today, but so was the world number 1; it just took her longer to get in high gear.

A lot was at stake. Prior to this semifinal, both women had perfect season records in three-set matches. The first set was all about Sharapova, who got an early break when Azarenka double-faulted on break point. Suddenly, the Belarusian was serving at 1-5, but Sharapova was nervous with her ball toss, double-faulted, and was broken. Azarenka had a chance to break back when Sharapova served for the set, but the 2006 U.S. Open champion hit an ace to take that set 6-3.

Sharapova then broke immediately in the second set. Azarenka broke back, as her opponent struggled with her second serve. In the seventh game of the set, the players engaged in some very intense rallies. Sharapova double-faulted, then missed a smash volley to give Azarenka a set point. It took three set points, however, before Azarenka won the second set 6-2.

At the beginning of the final set, Sharapova had a difficult hold or 1-all. More intense rallies ensued, and just when you thought one player had a definite edge, the other one woulld step in and tie the score. At 2-3, Sharapova put two ball in a row into the net. She committed a ninth double fault to take the game to its fourth deuce, then--out of nowhere--hit an ace. There was a brief rally, and Sharapova held. The Russian star also hit an ace to hold for 4-all, but she went down 0-30 in the next game. She hit an out-wide serve and then brought the game to 30-all.

But just when things looked good for Sharapova, she once again hit a shot into the net, giving her opponent a match point Sharapova saved that match point with a big serve, followed by a crosscourt forehand, which Azarenka hit wide. But then Azarenka hit a down-the-line shot that set up another match point. When Sharapova hit a forhand long, it was over. Azarenka's 3-6, 6-2, 6-4 victor put her into the final of the U.S. Open for the first time, while Sharapova was denied yet another chance to win a second major in New York.

Azarenka hit 19 winners and made 19 unforced errors, while Sharapova hit 44 winners and made 42 unforced errors. The Russian went for everything, and she almost made it, but by the end of the third set, one couldn't help but believe that she was a bit tired--at least, mentally--and that Azarenka was stilll mentally and physically fresh, despite the very hot weather (Azarenka wasn't even interested in taking the 10-minute heat rule break between sets). Victoria Azarenka has come a long way. The talent was always there, but there was the thigh injury, the on-court meltdowns, the fainting, the illness--or something.

These kinds of matches are not my favorite to watch, yet, by the end, I was enthralled with the fact that one of these players was about to go to the final, while the other--having gone through so much--would be very disappointed. The handshake left much to be desired. Azarenka and Sharapova barely looked at each other, and really, the match could have been honored a bit more. I'm not one to complain about a handshake; ir just seemed so anticlimactic that this very big match wasn't mutually acknowledged by the competitors at the end.

Much worse, however, was CBS's Mary Carillo's lengthy rant about the players' vocalizations. She acknolwedged that "grunting is permissable," so everyone on the ATP got a pass. Good to kinow. And while Carillo is certainly entitled to her opinion (and I actually applaud her opinion that a "grunt-o-meter" is nothing but a profit-making device), and is entitled to express it, did she have to go and on and on about it while two of the world's top players were fighting to determine who would be a match away from holding a huge trophy?

The other match was predictable and brief. Serena Williams took an easy 6-1 first set from Sara Errani, and then Errani made her work a little harder to get a second, 6-2, set. In my opinion, no honor was lost by the Fighting Italian; she just happend to be fighting Serena. Good luck with that.

Tonight, Williams and Azarenka will play a match that will determine who the 2012 U.S. Open champion is. Here are the players' paths to the final:

round 1--def. Alexandra Panova
round 2--def. Kirsten Flipkens
round 3--def. Zheng Jie
round of 16--def. Anna Tatishvili
quarterfinals--def. Sam Stosur (7) (defending champion)
semifinals--def. Maria Sharapova (3)

round 1--def. Coco Vandeweghe
round 2--def. Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez
round 3--def. Ekaterina Makarova
round of 16--def. Andrea Hlavackova
quarterfinals--def. Ana Ivanovic (12)
semifinals--def. Sara Errani (10)

Williams has a 9-1 overall record against Azarenka, and a 5-1 record against her on hard courts.

In junior tennis, top seed and Australian Open champion Taylor Townsend was defeated in the quarterfinals by Anett Kontaveit, and 2nd seed Yulia Putintseva was defeated by Samantha Crawford. The 3rd seed, Eugenie Bouchard (Wimbledon champion), was defeated by Victoria Duval, who lost to Kim Clijsters in the main draw.