Resurgent Azarenka denies Serena a shot at major record

Former World No 1 Victoria Azarenka announced her return to the major stage with a 6-1, 3-6, 3-6 win over Serena Williams

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Victoria Azarenka

Serena Williams’ long wait for a record-equalling 24th major will continue as she went down 6-1, 3-6, 3-6 to former World No 1 Victoria Azarenka in the semi-final of the US Open on Thursday evening.

Azarenka, a two-time Australian Open champion, brought her signature steely resolve to the court, rallying from a set down to send the pre-tournament favourite tumbling.

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This was the 31-year-old Belarussian’s first win over Williams in majors.

“I knew it’s never over, and I said that before the match. I didn’t think it was over even when I led 5-3 in the third, because I’ve been there before!” she added, noting her 2012 US Open final loss to Williams, where she also led 5-3 in the final set before finishing runner-up.

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“I was young. My ego was way too big. Now it’s a little smaller, and the results are coming.”

The Azarenka v Williams contest was billed as a battle of ‘supermoms’ at the US Open, and the players seemed to once again bring out the best of each other.

“Hopefully this inspires women to go after their dreams.” said the unseeded Azarenka.

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“I feel like you can’t always identify yourself as just one thing, because we have many things we can do in our lives. A parent is the most important thing I can be in my life, but I’m also a tennis player, a fighter on the court. I want to go after my personal dreams, to inspire my child.”

Azarenka struck 20 of her 24 winners in the final two sets, and dropped just four points behind her first serve in the decider. She booked her place in the US Open final, for the first time since 2013, with an ace.

Meanwhile, the 38-year-old Williams confirmed that she will be competing at the French Open, which begins on September 27.

“It’s obviously disappointing,” said Williams, who was bidding to equal the all-time record for most singles major titles, which belongs to Australia’s Margaret Court currently.

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“At the same time, you know, I did what I could today. I feel like other times I’ve been close and I could have done better. Today I felt like I gave a lot.

“Yeah, I mean, I’m definitely going to be going to Paris.”

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The 23-time champion has failed to win a Grand Slam title since returning to the tour after childbirth. She has made four finals, but has fallen short every single time.

In the final, Azarenka will take on Naomi Osaka, who defeated Jennifer Brady 7-6 (1), 3-6, 6-3 in the other semi-final.

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The two were supposed to clash in the final of the Western & Southern Open, which was relocated to New York this year, about two weeks ago.

But Osaka had pulled out of the match citing a hamstring strain. Though the Japanese has played the entire US Open with her thigh taped, she has played some inspiring tennis.

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“I’m so excited to play her because we were supposed to play last week,” said Azarenka of her finals opponent.

“It’s going to be super fun. She plays incredibly. I watched her semifinal a little today, and they had some incredible rallies. She’s super powerful, so I’ll have to stay strong and have fun. Playing a final is a blessing and a great opportunity.”

 

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