Gale force winds push back Williams' charge

American's battle with Azarenka delayed by a day due to weather

Flushing Meadows

They hardly need to make weather forecasts on the final weekend of the US Open. The year's concluding Grand Slam tournament has gone into a third week for the last four years in succession because of bad weather and the chances of that sequence being extended grew here yesterday as storms battered the city.

The forecast for the evening was so bad that a decision was taken at lunchtime to delay the women's final between Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka – which should have been played last night – until today.

On the basis of recent results between the two women it will be a case of simply delaying the inevitable. Williams, who last won the title here in 2008, has won her last seven meetings with Azarenka, whose only victory over the American was in the final in Miami three years ago.

Azarenka, nevertheless, is a much improved player this year, which was evident in her semi-final victory over Maria Sharapova, who was clearly desperate to win here. After a slow start, the world No 1 won 3-6 6-2 6-4 to reach her first US Open final.

Although Azarenka failed to maintain the momentum she built up at the start of the year, when she won her first four tournaments, her form here has been excellent.

The 23-year-old from Belarus is much stronger, both physically and mentally, than she was a year or two ago, when she kept reaching the latter stages of Grand Slam tournaments without going on to lift the biggest prize. Winning the Australian Open at the start of this year has clearly done wonders for her confidence.

Azarenka has consolidated her position as world No 1 with her performances over the last fortnight and will remain at the top whatever today's result against Williams, who will start as the favourite after a series of outstanding performances in her first six matches.

Williams, who needed just 64 minutes to beat Sara Errani in her semi-final, has yet to drop a set here this year. Her matches have lasted an average of just 68 minutes compared with 94 minutes for Azarenka.

Sharapova admitted that she had failed to put pressure on Azarenka's serve in the latter stages of the match. The Russian hit 44 winners compared to Azarenka's 19, but the more telling statistic was her 42 unforced errors, 23 more than her opponent's total.

"I didn't do much on her service games," Sharapova said. "She was winning them pretty easy. On mine they were quite long and I was just making too many errors, not putting any pressure on her."

Nevertheless, after a Grand Slam season in which she won one title, lost in the final in Melbourne and reached the semi-finals here, Sharapova was not complaining. She also recaptured the world No 1 ranking, if only briefly.

"I'll take the results I had this year," Sharapova said. "I look back at the beginning of the season and I remember going to Australia early and not really sure I was going to play a warm-up tournament because my ankle was still not feeling great.

"So if anyone had told me when I had that uncertainty going into the Australian Open that I would have this type of season – and it's still not over because we still have a few more events to play – I would have been pretty happy."

As for her loss here, Sharapova added: "This is really where I would have loved to get even further, but it's certainly a step better than the last few years."

How much it mattered to Sharapova was evident in the closing stages of the semi-final, when she kept willing herself to do better and greeted winning points with a clenched fist of celebration.

Despite her disappointment, Sharapova said she still appreciated how fortunate she has been. "I try to get a sense of that perspective as much as possible because you can lose it so fast," she said. "The grinding, the days, and the work that you put in and then the tournaments, everything kind of just happens. It's a groove.

"It's easy to forget where you came from and what you had to go through to get to that point. But when I do think about it, I'm so lucky that I get to play this sport, that I love playing it still, and that I feel like I have a lot in me.

"I'm No 3 in the world right now and was back at No 1 winning Grand Slams again, so it's certainty a great feeling."

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