US Open 2012: Victoria Azarenka surprises Maria Sharapova in 3 sets
Coming all the way back from a set and a break down, the top-seeded Azarenka prevailed in a stirring third, beating four-time Grand Slam champion Sharapova 3-6, 6-2, 6-4 on Friday to reach her first U.S. Open final.
Entering Friday, Sharapova was 12-0 in three-setters this year, and had won 78 consecutive matches in which she took the opening set, a streak dating to 2010. But Azarenka broke in the last game to push her own 2012 record to 12-0 in matches that went the distance.
“Actually, I didn’t know that statistic,” Azarenka said during an on-court interview. “It’s pretty good.”
Then again, the way Azarenka dealt with Sharapova, she’s probably feeling pretty good about herself. She sure looked pleased while doing a little jig, then chucking some tennis balls into the stands, after Sharapova’s forehand sailed long on the final point of their 2-hour, 42-minute quarterfinal.
“I was just not trying to focus on the score,” Azarenka said. “Trying to give whatever it takes.”
Given a chance to rest for a bit after the second set by a 10-minute break requested by Sharapova under the extreme heat rule, both women came out swinging away in the third. Azarenka emerged from the locker room before Sharapova and took the opportunity to practice groundstrokes and serves with ballkids.
The third set was filled with high-quality play, made all the more impressive considering the sun, the swirling wind and what was at stake. They hit the ball hard. They chased down shots with terrific defense. Sharapova even shifted her racket from her right to her left hand during a couple of lengthy exchanges.
One particularly intense and riveting game came with Sharapova serving while trailing 2-1. Azarenka accumulated three break points, but Sharapova saved each, the last with a cross-court backhand winner. After a fifth deuce, Sharapova eventually held with a 109 mph ace, one of her eight in the match.
But the third-seeded Sharapova also double-faulted 10 times, a recurring theme ever since she returned from surgery on her right shoulder in 2008. This has been a resurgent year for the Russian, who completed a career Grand Slam by winning the French Open in June, was the runner-up at the Australian Open and the London Olympics, and briefly returned to No. 1 in the rankings — a spot that now belongs to Azarenka.