Top seed Azarenka making plenty of noise

FLUSHING MEADOWS, N.Y. -- With all the subtlety of a jet coming in for a landing at nearby LaGuardia Airport, two of the best power hitters in the women's game, Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova, played loud, aggressive tennis for 2 hours and 42 minutes in a dramatic U.S. Open semifinal.

There was no rain to bail Sharapova out this time. Azarenka, the top seed, played true to form to reach the U.S. Open final, winning 3-6, 6-2, 6-4. Sharapova, a former champion, walked crisply off the Arthur Ashe Stadium court as Azarenka danced.

"I try to enjoy my moment," Azarenka said. "I feel like I don't want it to end. I'm living this great run, you know, this great opportunity ... that I just want to continue and enjoy that ride. When I'm on the court, I feel like I'm in paradise, you know. I'm in that most comfortable place I can be. Why not enjoy it?"

Azarenka will play a dominant-looking No. 4 Serena Williams in the Saturday night women's final. Williams won a decisive 6-1, 6-2 victory over No. 10 Sara Errani in the second semifinal on Ashe.

Sharapova was reflective after the loss, saying that after winning the French Open this year she experienced a calm with wins and losses that makes it easier to enjoy her tennis career. In her two previous Open matches, she had been down in sets suspended by rain and had come back to win.

Even as she was on the way out, Sharapova said there was nothing like the feeling of competing for a title.

"There's nothing like being in that moment," Sharapova, the 2006 U.S. Open winner, said. "As tough as these days are, it's always so gratifying when you're sitting in a press conference at the end of winning a Grand Slam and talking about how you got to that moment."

The tense match showed why No. 3 Sharapova and Azarenka are developing one of the best rivalries on tour since the days of Martina Hingis and Venus Williams. Azarenka has a slight edge now with a 6-4 lead against Sharapova, who won the last time they met in Stuttgart.

Azarenka said she thinks it's because they both are such competitors.

"Yeah. I really do," Azarenka said. "Because that's what I feel like we play for, we live for, to play on these big stages against, you know, such champions. You know, that feeling of winning a great battle is just priceless."

These two are notable for what else they have in common -- and that's the decibel level.

For sure their grunting will be lamented, but having sat through the David Ferrer-Janko Tipsarevic match -- which one watcher said sounded like two cavemen fighting over a bison -- it's the same stuff, but with a higher pitch.

The idea that grunting is annoying only when women do it -- or when they call a baseball game on the radio or do college football play-by-play or tell you to clean your room, or answer that heck no they won't go on a date with you -- it would all be fine if only the pitch were slightly deeper.

Maybe that kind of effort isn't ladylike, but Azarenka and Sharapova aren't ones for half-measures.

"So I do enjoy intensity on the court," Azarenka said, "because I'm a player who gives 100 percent on every moment on the court."

Sharapova got off to a quick start, breaking Azarenka twice to go up 5-1. But once she was serving for the set, Sharapova showed the first cracks in her game, double-faulting twice as Azarenka broke back.

A game later, Sharapova was back in the position of having to serve out the first set. Again she double-faulted twice in a row and soon faced two break points. She overpowered Azarenka to save the first and Azarenka couldn't handle her first serve on the other for deuce. A 107 mph ace on the second set point gave Sharapova a one-set lead.

But Azarenka took the momentum from late in the first set and carried it into the second, breaking Sharapova twice to go up 4-1. The Russian was able to get her serve back once, but Azarenka won the second set at 6-2 after pushing Sharapova to deuce twice.

It was the first three-set match Sharapova has lost all year in 13 played, mainly because she wasn't consistent with her serve. Although it was fast -- her best was 114 mph -- she still struggled to hold serve and had 10 double faults.

Azarenka won the Australian Open to start the year, and hard courts are where she is most at home. She will face Serena Williams in the Saturday night final, while Sharapova has something else in her immediate future.

"I'm looking forward to checking out the ice cream truck that's around the corner from my hotel," Sharapova said. "It's been haunting me."

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