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Azarenka hits finals

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Associated Press
January 26, 2012
— Victoria Azarenka reached her first Grand Slam final and staked a claim for the No. 1 ranking when she beat defending champion Kim Clijsters 6-4, 1-6, 6-3 in the Australian Open semifinals on Thursday.

The third-seeded Azarenka recovered her composure twice in periods when a resurgent Clijsters seemed to have the upper hand, breaking the veteran Belgian’s serve three times in the third set to secure victory in only her second appearance in a major semifinal.


The 22-year-old Belarusian will play either Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova or 2008 Australian Open champion Maria Sharapova in the Saturday night final. Azarenka, Kvitova and Sharapova can all finish the tournament with the No. 1 ranking.


After a strong start, Azarenka’s serve deserted her in the second set and Clijsters dictated play with her solid groundstrokes and some amazing defense.


But after getting the momentum back, it was Clijsters who blinked first in the third set, dropping serve in the second game and again in the fourth. She got two of those service games back, including one when she rallied from 40-0 down to win a game to get the score back to 4-3.


But Azarenka rallied immediately again, breaking serve. She got triple match point trying to serve out the match and, after a double-fault on her first, she clinched it on a Clijsters’ error.


Azarenka threw her racket on the court and sank to her knees, bent over with her hands covering her face. Clijsters came around the net to congratulate her.


“I felt like my hand is about 200 kilograms and my body is about 1,000 and everything is shaking, but that feeling when you finally win is such a relief. My God I cannot believe it’s over. I just want to cry,” Azarenka said as she choked back tears, then buried her face in the towel.


The Sharapova-Kvitova semifinal was next match on Rod Laver Arena.


On Wednesday night, top-ranked Novak Djokovic held off No. 5 David Ferrer in a second-set tiebreaker and then raced through the third set for a 6-4, 7-6 (4), 6-1 win, setting up a rematch of last year’s final against fourth-ranked Andy Murray and ensuring the ‘Big 4’ reached the semifinals for the third time in the last four majors.


With Nos. 2-4 already in the semis, Djokovic looked to be in trouble in the second set when he clutched at his left hamstring and had trouble breathing.


“No, I don’t have any physical issues,” Djokovic later said, playing down any health concerns. “I feel very fit and I feel mentally, as well, very fresh.”


Murray beat Kei Nishikori 6-3, 6-3, 6-1 earlier Wednesday, while second-ranked Rafael Nadal and No. 3 Roger Federer were already preparing for their semifinal showdown on Thursday, their 10th clash at a major but their first meeting at that stage of a Grand Slam since 2005.



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