Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka stormed into the final of the US Open with crushing victories in Friday’s semis to set up a classic showdown between the greatest player of her generation and the current world No. 1.
Williams was at her ruthless best as she demolished Italian Sara Errani 6-1, 6-2 to continue her golden summer, while Azarenka was no less impressive as she clawed her way out of trouble to beat Maria Sharapova 3-6, 6-2, 6-4 at Flushing Meadows.
With momentum on her side after winning a fifth Wimbledon title in July, then the Olympic singles and doubles events at the London Games, Williams is to start the final as the overwhelming favorite.
“I think it will probably be the best summer I’ve ever had,” she said. “It will be up there, because if you win the Olympics and Wimbledon and this, it would be kinda cool.”
Few players have ever been able to keep pace with Williams when she is fit and in form, and Azarenka knows the enormity of the challenge she faces.
The Belarusian has been the most consistent player in the world this year and won her first Grand Slam title at the Australian Open in January, but her previous results against Williams have been poor, with the American winning nine of their 10 clashes.
“She’s the toughest opponent there is in the draw,” Azarenka said. “And being in the final makes it even more difficult, so it’s definitely gonna be a tough one.”
Despite the hurdles she faces, Azarenka is not without hope. The 23-year-old is a player on the rise with plenty of big weapons and nerves like steel.
She beat the defending champion Sam Stosur in a deciding third-set tiebreak to make the semis, then came from a set and a service break down to defeat Sharapova, who won the French Open in June.
Sharapova, one of just three women to beat Williams in a Grand Slam final, did however offer some words of encourgament to Azarenka.
“No matter who is going in there as the favorite, no matter how confident they are, everyone has a chance,” Sharapova said.
Even so, the odds are still heavily stacked in favor of Williams, who already has 14 Grand Slam titles, including three from the US Open.
She has not dropped a single set on her way to the final and has got better and better with each match, giving Errani, runner-up at the French Open this year, little chance.
Williams won her first US Open title in 1999 when she was just 17, but is now bidding to become the oldest woman to win since Margaret Court triumphed, aged 31, in 1973.
Williams turns 31 later this month.