Maria Sharapova to meet Victoria Azarenka in Australian Open final

 

Maria Sharapova avenged her defeat in the Wimbledon final to Petra Kvitova with a gutsy three-set victory over the Czech in the last four of the Australian Open today.

Sharapova, who won 6-2 3-6 6-4 to move through to a meeting with Victoria Azarenka in the title-decider, was overpowered at times but found the reserves to advance.

Saturday's champion will also become the new world number one, taking over from Caroline Wozniacki, who will drop to number four.

"I just felt in the third set she had the advantage because I was always down on my serve," said Sharapova.

"I thought I had to hit it and don't let her finish the points the way she likes to.

"I just hung in there and got a few returns in in that final game, perhaps that was the key."

Kvitova looked completely out of sorts in the first set, with her movement particularly suspect.

Sharapova, on the other hand, was full of intensity and forced an early break from the Czech and although her opponent hit back, further breaks in the fifth and seventh games handed her the opening set.

The Russian started the second shakily with her serve, so often her Achilles heel, starting to falter and a double fault on break point handed Kvitova a route back into the contest.

And with the momentum shifting as Kvitova's powerful groundstrokes started to find their target, the second seed levelled with ease.

The players traded breaks at the start of the decider and having come through a titanic seventh game, Sharapova made her move to snatch the Kvitova serve and clinch the match.

Earlier, Azarenka advanced to her first grand slam final after outlasting defending champion Kim Clijsters in a remarkable encounter.

Clijsters, on what could have been her last appearance Down Under as she is due to retire at the end of the season, fought hard but Azarenka's bludgeoning ground strokes proved too much as the Belarusian won 6-4 1-6 6-3 in two hours and 12 minutes of absorbing tennis.

The Belgian's impending departure from the women's game means the chasing pack are jostling for position and on this evidence Azarenka will be at the forefront.

Her powerful all-court game has seen her knock on the door for a number of years but the way she regrouped after losing the second set suggests she is becoming a more complete player.

"I felt like my hand weighed about 200kg and my body was 1000kg, everything was shaking but that feeling when you finally win is such a relief, I just want to cry," she said after being asked to describe the closing points.

"I was just trying to stay in the moment.

"Kim really took over in the second set and I felt there was nothing I could do. In the third I just tried to let my shots go a little bit.

"I am really glad that I fought for every ball."

On her improved mental attitude, she joked: "I think before you all thought I was a mental case but I am just young and emotional."

Azarenka was outstanding in the early exchanges, her greater weight of shot pushing Clijsters further behind the baseline and she was quick to punish the short ball.

She broke for a 2-1 lead and overcame some uncertain moments on serve and a noisy flypast to celebrate Australia Day to see out the set.

The second was a complete contrast as Azarenka started to throw in numerous unforced errors and the experienced Clijsters seized her chance, winning it in 36 minutes to level matters.

Previously that would have signalled the beginning of the end for Azarenka but she displayed her new-found mental fortitude to claim a 4-1 lead despite Clijsters' best efforts.

The four-time grand slam champion was staring down the barrel at 4-2 40-0 down but in a courageous last stand hit back to break and get it back on serve.

But again, Azarenka stood firm, a crushing forehand seeing her break back and she served it out.

PA

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