Azarenka & Sharapova set up grunting grand finale

Victoria Azarenka claimed her biggest ever scalp in a Grand Slam as she beat Kim Clijsters, 6-4 1-6 6-3 to advance to her first ever Grand Slam final.  Azarenka started the match in fine form as she needed just one break to take the first set.  Clijsters came roaring back in the second set and assumed control of the match as she punished Azarenka for a lapse in concentration and a breakdown on serve.  However Azarenka showed terrific determination to regain the momentum in the third set against the heavily favoured crowd favourite in Clijsters. The Belgian had her chances as she recovered from a 1-4 third set deficit to 3-4, but all her hard work was undone as her inconsistencies surfaced once more and the Belarusian was able to serve out the match to end a nervy, yet exciting third set.  This is the kind of win we have been waiting for from Azarenka and she proved her credentials on the big stage.  I particularly liked her post-match interview, which was very endearing and she seemed to connect with the crowd for the first time.
 I always enjoy the post-match interviews at the Australian Open and this was one of my favourites from the tournament as Victoria Azarenka spoke to Todd Woodbridge

Azarenka will play Maria Sharapova in the final after she produced a fighting third set performance to topple Petra Kvitova, 6-2 3-6 6-4 and end the Czech’s chances of claiming the world number one spot.  Sharapova was dominant in the first set with Kvitova lacking intensity throughout her whole game, but she managed to claw it back in the second set firing 14 winners.  The third set was an intriguing affair although never hit the heights of being a classic.  Kvitova had many chances on the Sharapova serve, but missed 4 break points and a 0-30 advantage at 4-4.  This all seemed to take its toll on a weary and frustrated Kvitova who had what can only be described as a complete brain freeze in the final game as she gifted Sharapova a place in the final with a woeful service game.  Kvitova has had a good tournament, but on this occasion she lacked the killer instinct of taking her chances and she paid the ultimate price against a fighter in Sharapova.  The Russian has had a terrific week and I must reiterate how I did not expect this at all!  
Kvitova’s brain freeze in the final game of the match

I was extremely glad to see that both semi-finals were very competitive and went to three sets.  In fact, it was the first time since the 2006 US Open that both semi-finals went the distance.  Although neither matches were classics, I think it is good that the WTA season has started with some really competitive clashes and with so many players closely bunched together at the top in ranking points, I really feel the WTA is ready to flourish in 2012.  The final between Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova is likely to be a shrieking and grunting masterpiece with the added bonus for the winner of scooping the world number one spot.  In truth, this was probably my least favourite of the 4 four potential final match-ups because I believe the whole issue of grunting is going to detract attention away from the actual tennis match.  I will publish my preview of Saturday’s final tomorrow but in the meantime you can watch highlights from today’s semi-finals here!

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