Serena and Azarenka slug their way into the final

Posted: September 08, 2012

NEW YORK - Serena Williams has ridden the express train right into Saturday night's women's final of the U.S. Open. Going full throttle from her opening match last week, Williams flew right past Sara Errani in her semifinal on Friday, setting up the championship final in Arthur Ashe Stadium against Victoria Azarenka, who defeated Maria Sharapova.

With her racket more of a flyswatter, Williams flattened Errani, 6-1, 6-2, in a match that wasn't that close. Azarenka, the world's No. 1 player and No. 1 seed here, got past Sharapova, 3-6, 6-2, 6-4, and will face Williams, whom she has beaten once in 10 matches.

Through her first six matches Williams hasn't lost a set and has dropped only 19 games. She's been on court a total of 6:47, barely enough time to break a sweat. And while her serve wasn't really humming (nine aces, a total of 50 for the tournament), it was more than Errani could handle. Williams didn't have any trouble with Errani's powder-puff serve, effectively playing T-ball. Williams' first serve averaged 108 m.p.h.; Errani's 83. Williams bashed 38 winning ground strokes; Errani managed six.

"For me, I think she is incredible," said Errani, the Italian who is No. 10 in the world but is a world apart from Williams. "The way she [wants to win], when she plays like this, I think she's the best player in the world."

Williams was complimentary of Errani and was happy with her performance. "I think I played better than my other matches because I had to," Williams said. "I was more consistent."

She lost in the Open final last year in straight sets to Samantha Stosur. In the second set of that match she got into contretemps with the chair umpire after she was assessed a penalty point for calling out "C'mon" before her shot landed in Stosur's court, thinking she had hit a winner.

In her previous Open, Williams vehemently protested a foot-fault call and was assessed a penalty point on match point of her semifinal loss to Kim Clijsters.

"My goal this year is not to get into any fights and, hopefully, I won't," Williams said.

The Sharapova-Azarenka match was less than riveting. The modicum of quality shots was offset by a bushel of pedestrian errors. Sharapova's serve swung from the sublime to the ridiculous, averaging out to somewhere around not good enough. Azarenka's serve doesn't have anywhere near the sting of Sharapova's, and she relies more on placement.

Though Sharapova took the first set with some ease, Azarenka was starting to erode her confidence with a late break of serve. Still, Sharapova began the second with a break of Azarenka's serve that should have set her up for the victory. Instead she handed the break right back.

"I was up a set and break. I had game points to go up 2-0," Sharapova said. "There's no doubt she raised her level and she started playing better and moving better."

Sharapova had eight aces, but she also made 10 double faults.

"In the third I think a lot of it had to do with the returns," Sharapova said. "I didn't do much on her service games. She was winning them pretty easy. On [my service games] they were quite long and just making too many errors, not putting any pressure on her."

Williams' run this year is reminiscent of her Open championships in 2002 and 2008 (she also won in 1999). She didn't lose a set in those tournaments, either. This season she has beaten Azarenka three times: in the Madrid final, in the Wimbledon semis on her way to victory, and in the Olympic semis on her way to the gold medal.

"If you look at her record it says it all," Azarenka said. "I haven't won in any of the last meetings, so I will definitely need to find something to surprise her because she's in great form, feeling really confident. She has everything on her side."

Brothers triumph. Bob and Mike Bryan won the men's doubles title for a record 12th Grand Slam championship.

The American twins had been tied with Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde for the most in the Open era, which started in 1968.

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