NEW YORK (AP) — Normally so good, so gritty, in the crucible of the third set, Maria Sharapova finally met her match against Victoria Azarenka.
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.
"This one didn't go my way," Sharapova said. "Frustrating, but it's the game of tennis. A lot of swings in the match today. Certainly had the lead and the advantage."
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.
"I didn't know that statistic," Azarenka said during an on-court interview. "It's pretty good."
On Saturday, Australian Open champion Azarenka will play in her second major final of the season — and career — and will try to stop 14-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams' strong run. Seeking a fourth title at Flushing Meadows, the fourth-seeded Williams wasted little time or energy while overwhelming 10th-seeded Sara Errani of Italy 6-1, 6-2.
The entire match lasted all of 64 minutes — or 10 minutes fewer than the third set between Azarenka and Sharapova.
"It's stressful against her," Errani said. "She puts a lot of pressure on you."
A year ago, Williams was stunned in straight sets in the U.S. Open final by Sam Stosur of Australia. Facing a break point at the start of the second set, Williams pounded a forehand she celebrated with her familiar yell of "Come on!" as Stosur was reaching to return the shot. The chair umpire awarded the point to Stosur, setting Williams off on a series of insults directed at the official, including, "You're just unattractive inside."
In the 2009 semifinals in New York, Williams launched into her infamous foot-fault tirade and was docked a point on match point, ending a loss to Kim Clijsters.
When a reporter mentioned to Williams, who won the U.S. Open in 1999, 2002 and 2008, that nothing of that sort has happened this year, she replied: "Hey, it's not done yet."
"I did grunt once today, and I thought, 'God, I hope I don't lose the point,'" said Williams, who has lost 19 games in six matches this year. "Like I said, my goal this year was not to get in any fights."
Williams, trying to become the first 30-year-old woman to win the U.S. Open since Martina Navratilova in 1987, compiled a 38-6 edge in winners against Errani. Since a surprising exit at the French Open in late May, her only first-round loss in 49 appearances at major tournaments, Williams is 25-1, including a title at Wimbledon and gold medal at the London Olympics.
Williams owns a 9-1 career record against Azarenka.
"I've got to do something different, to be honest," Azarenka said.
Asked whether she would watch video of their past matches, Azarenka joked: "Well, I don't want to be depressed."
Then again, the way Azarenka dealt with Sharapova, she's probably feeling pretty good about herself, too. She sure looked pleased while doing a little jig, then chucking some tennis balls into the stands, after the fading Sharapova's forehand sailed long on the final point of their 2-hour, 42-minute quarterfinal.