NEW YORK – Victoria Azarenka’s ride to the final of the U.S. Open looked routine enough on paper. She avoided any serious threat of an upset, and her steady effort resulted in a predictable trip by the No. 2 seed to the final for a second consecutive year.
But the look on her face in her 6-4, 6-2 victory over Flavia Pennetta on Friday in the first women’s semifinal, or in her fourth-round, three-set victory over Ana Ivanovic, provided a different portrait.
The 24-year-old from Belarus spent most of the time looking exasperated, unable to establish control on her serve or take command of those matches.
Azarenka won both, but she is likely to need to find a higher level for Sunday’s final, which pits her against No. 1 Serena Williams.
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Williams had none of Azarenka’s problems getting there. The 31-year-old American has rolled through her opponents — including Li Na, whom she beat in their semifinal 6-0, 6-3.
But even as China’s Li was running all over the court to save her serve to pull to 3-5 — saving six match points in that game — it was mostly for pride. Williams served out the match in the next game.
Until Li won her first game in the second set, Williams had won 24 straight games stretching back to her fourth-round victory over Sloane Stephens. Williams, who has not lost a set in the tournament, won her quarterfinal against Carla Suarez Navarro without dropping a game.
“I don’t know,” Williams said when asked about her dominance. “I’ve just been really focused in all my practices. I’ve been trying really hard. And I come out here and hear all people saying, ‘Go, Serena.’ It really means a lot.”
Li received her share of support from a crowd that not only had warmed to her but also wanted to see a better match. Li hoped to deliver that, but she said her nerves got the better of her.
“Today, doesn’t matter who is the opponent; the problem is myself,” she said.
Li said it was not her first time in the semifinals, so she should not have felt nervous. But the court seemed enormous, she said, and she was unable to focus.
Williams is 12-3 against Azarenka, including a 6-2, 2-6, 7-5 victory in last year’s U.S. Open final.
Williams, seeking her fifth U.S. Open title and 17th major, said she was prepared for a demanding test from Azarenka.
“We always have really good matches,” Williams said. “She’s a great player and she lifts her game when it counts.”