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.
"All heart," said Azarenka, a 23-year-old from Belarus.
On Saturday, Australian Open champion Azarenka will play in her second major final of the season - and career - against 14-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams. 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.
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 in her 64-minute semifinal 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.
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.
"Actually, I didn't know that statistic," Azarenka said during an on-court interview. "It's pretty good."
On Saturday, in Australian Open champion Azarenka's second major final of the season and career she will face Williams in a night match.
Azarenka could hardly be blamed for hoping to avoid a particular opponent: She is 1-9 against Williams, whose 14 Grand Slam titles include three at Flushing Meadows.
Then again, the way Azarenka dealt with Sharapova, she's probably feeling pretty good about herself. She sure looked pleased while doing a little jig, then chucking some tennis balls into the stands, after Sharapova's forehand sailed long on the final point of their 2-hour, 42-minute quarterfinal.
"I was just not trying to focus on the score," Azarenka said. "Trying to give whatever it takes."
Given a chance to rest for a bit after the second set by a 10-minute break requested by Sharapova under the extreme heat rule, both women came out swinging away in the third. Azarenka emerged from the locker room before Sharapova and took the opportunity to practice groundstrokes and serves with ballkids.
The third set was filled with high-quality play, made all the more impressive considering the sun, the swirling wind and what was at stake. They hit the ball hard. They chased down shots with terrific defense. Sharapova even shifted her racket from her right to her left hand during a couple of lengthy exchanges.