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Rediff.com  » Sports » Sharapova, Azarenka set up final showdown in Melbourne

Sharapova, Azarenka set up final showdown in Melbourne

Last updated on: January 26, 2012 15:05 IST

Sharapova overcomes poor service game to make final

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Fourth seed Maria Sharapova overcame a second set rally by Petra Kvitova to advance to her third Australian Open final with a 6-2, 3-6, 6-4 victory on Thursday. 

She will now meet third seed Victoria Azarenka in the final on Saturday after the Belarusian earlier beat 2011 champion Kim Clijsters 6-4, 1-6, 6-3.

Sharapova, who won the last of her three grand slams at Melbourne Park in 2008, avenged her 2011 Wimbledon final defeat to Kvitova in the process.

The Russian will reclaim the top spot when the new rankings are released on Monday. 


Image: Maria Sharapova of Russia celebrates winning match point in her semifinal match against Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic
Photographs: Getty Images

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Kvitove was left to rue her errors

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Kvitova had appeared tentative in the first set, allowing the Russian to dictate play before she found her range with her serve in the second, conceding just five points to send the match into a decider. 

The Czech had got the better of the Russian in last year's Wimbledon final.



Image: Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic calls for a challenge in her semifinal match against Maria Sharapova of Russia
Photographs: Getty Images

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'I just hung in there'

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Sharapova had issues with her serve in the third set, making five double faults, but remained in the match as Kvitova made 20 unforced errors. The Russian then sealed victory when the Czech's serve fell apart in the 10th game to take the match in two hours, 12 minutes. 

"I felt like in the third set she always had the advantage," Sharapova said in a courtside interview. "I just thought to myself you've just go to go for it. 

"I just hung in there and got a few returns in there in the last game. 

"I love this sport and sometimes even if you're not playing your best tennis, you can find a way to win." 


Image: Maria Sharapova of Russia shakes hands with Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic after winning her semifinal match during day eleven of the 2012 Australian Open
Photographs: Getty Images

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Azarenka proves she's no 'mental case'

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Victoria Azarenka proved temper tantrums and fiery flare-ups are a thing of the past after she kept her cool in a controlled victory over Kim Clijsters to earn a place in the Australian Open final.

The world number three has a history of cracking under pressure but despite being pushed to the limit by the defending champion, she stood firm in a 6-4, 1-6,  6-3 win on Thursday.

The Belarusian, who will be appearing in her first grand slam final, has not been a crowd favourite at Melbourne Park but the fans at Rod Laver Arena warmed to her after a deserved victory that left her choked with emotion.

"I think before you all thought that I was a mental case," the 22-year-old said in a court-side interview. "I was just young and emotional."

Azarenka, riding an 11-match winning streak this year after beating China's Li Na to win the Sydney International title earlier this month, was careful not to get carried away with her victory over Clijsters.

"Today was not the end. I have one more match to go. I have to stay humble and stay focused," she said. 


Image: Victoria Azarenka of Belarus reacts celebrates a point in her semifinal match against Kim Clijsters of Belgium during day eleven of the 2012 Australian Open
Photographs: Getty Images

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No fairytale farewell for Clijsters

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Back-from-the-brink victories by Kim Clijsters had given the defending champion an air of invincibility at Melbourne Park this year, but Thursday's three-set semi-final loss to Victoria Azarenka in her Australian Open farewell proved even the teak-tough Belgian is fallable.

Clijsters had been hoping for a fairy-tale finish on Rod Laver Arena, where she has been known affectionately as "Aussie Kim" by the local public since her one-time engagement to former world number one Lleyton Hewitt.

It had appeared a sure bet as she levelled at a set apiece, with the temperamental Azarenka crumbling before her eyes and the stands roaring her on after every winning point.

In previous matches, iron-woman Clijsters had saved four match points against Li Na after shrugging off an ankle injury, and eased past Caroline Wozniacki in straights sets, dislodging the Dane from the top ranking in the process.

But with a fifth grand slam crown beckoning, a stunned Clijsters cracked under the pressure and was broken three times in a deciding third set in which she clattered 18 unforced errors.

In a glittering stop-start career, Clijsters has retired once, married, become a mother and notched up four grand slams among her 41 tour wins, but the losses still burn the 28-year-old Belgian.

"This one, I think we both played some really, really good tennis. But it's unfortunate when you get so close," the usually ebullient Belgian told reporters gloomily.

"I know I'm capable of beating all these girls, but it's whoever's better on the day wins and gets to go through.

"That's something that is disappointing. But, yeah, I could have been home already two days ago. I feel that I really gave it 200 percent, so in that way I really don't feel like I could have done anything differently these last two weeks."

Clijsters has confirmed 2012 will be her last on the tour and though she has spoken longingly of winning a medal for Belgium at the London Olympics, her loss to Azarenka underlined a changing of the guard in women's tennis. 


Image: Kim Clijsters of Belgium reacts to a point in her semifinal match against Victoria Azarenka of Belarus during day eleven of the 2012 Australian Open at Melbourne
Photographs: Getty Images

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