Sharapova will face world number three Serena Williams in Sunday’s final after the American defeated Agnieszka Radwanska 6-2 6-1 in the earlier semi-final.
Azarenka had already secured the end-of-year world number one ranking, with victory over Li Na on Friday night, but looked increasingly exhausted as the match went on. And understandably so considering she had spent almost seven hours on court in the past three days.
But that should not take away from Sharapova’s performance, the Russian producing the kind of display that saw her complete her career Grand Slam with victory at the French Open in Paris in June.
Azarenka made a quick start to the match, racing through a love service game to set up hopes of an epic clash between the top two players in the world; another match of the quality seen when the Belarusian took on Germany’s Angelique Kerber earlier in the week.
But Sharapova broke in just the third game of the match. The first break point went begging for the Russian as she riffled an inside out cross court forehand well wide. But a double fault from Azarenka did not help her cause and Sharapova secured the break a couple of points later when Azarenka hit into the net.
Bizarrely, Sharapova’s only blip in the match came in the very next game, conceding her serve to love, but it was only a minor lapse in concentration as she immediately re-established her break advantage, leaving Azarenka perplexed after a series of forced errors.
This time around Sharapova made no mistake in backing up the break with a service hold of her own before going on to serve out the set with a forehand winner.
Things quickly went from bad to worse for Azarenka as a double fault and forehand error handed Sharapova two break points in the first game of the second set. The Russian only needed the one, however, following some immense defence with a cross court forehand winner.
A second break, just two games later, all but ended the clash for Azarenka, who by this stage was struggling with an upper right thigh injury (although decided against receiving treatment at any point).
Her movement was particularly hampered moving out to the forehand side, and a couple of errors off that wing followed by a double fault was all Sharapova needed to secure the double break as she cruised towards the final.
With time running out, Azarenka’s tactic swiftly changed to hitting the ball as hard as she could as often as she could. And it was a tactic that almost paid dividends as she found herself with a break back point in the sixth game.
But Sharapova battled through a 15 minute service game, which she eventually held with a sixth ace and an off-forehand cross court winner.
Azarenka made Sharapova serve out for the win which she did to love when Azarenka sent her return into the top of the net.
Awaiting Sharapova in the final is nemesis Williams, whom the Russian has not beaten since 2004.
Williams needed little time to beat world number four Radwanska in the first of the day’s semi-finals, the Pole - like Azarenka - simply looking exhausted after a number of late finishes to lengthy matches in Istanbul.
Radwanska already had her work cut out for her, having only taken one set off the American in their three previous meetings.
But a relaxed and confident-looking Williams demolished weary Radwanska in little over an hour, the Pole clearly suffering from her three set epics against Sharapova and Sara Errani on the previous two nights.
- Sports & Recreation
- Agnieszka Radwanska
- Serena Williams