Beijing, China – Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova were easy semifinal winners Saturday and will meet for the title at the China Open.
The top-seeded Azarenka cruised to a 6-4, 6-2 victory over France's Marion Bartoli after the second-seeded Sharapova thumped China's Li Na, 6-4, 6-0. The top two players in the world have combined for seven titles in 2012, but none since June, and were medal winners at the Olympics -- Sharapova taking silver and Azarenka claiming bronze.
Sunday's final will mark their fifth meeting this year. Azarenka has won three of the first four, including a semifinal triumph at the U.S. Open last month.
The other three matchups this year came in finals -- Azarenka winning at the Australian Open and Indian Wells with Sharapova taking the crown in Stuttgart.
Azarenka also owns a 6-4 lifetime mark against Sharapova, including 4-1 in finals. The two also met in the round of 32 at this event in 2009 with Sharapova earning a three-set win.
The 23-year-old Azarenka will be trying for her fifth title of 2012 and the 13th of her career. In addition to her victories over Sharapova in finals at the Australian Open and Indian Wells, the Belarus native also won in Sydney and Doha. She is 4-3 in finals for the year, coming up short in a three-set loss to Serena Williams at the U.S. Open, and 12-11 lifetime.
Sharapova is 27-17 all-time in title matches, including 3-4 this year. The Russian star has not won since the clay season in the spring when she followed up the Stuttgart crown with titles in Rome and the French Open. She was also the runner-up in Miami and at the Olympics in addition to her losses to Azarenka in Melbourne and Indian Wells.
It wasn't easy for Sharapova early on Saturday. She fell behind 3-1 against Li, then ripped off 11 of the next 12 games and beat the former French Open champ for the third time in as many meetings this year.
"It was a really high quality first set with a few ups and downs, and obviously she had the lead in that set, but I came back," said Sharapova. "There were a few key moments to that set, and after I broke her in the last game, it was important to take that momentum into the second set and keep going."
Azarenka has not dropped a set this week and was in danger of going past 10 games in a set for the first time until breaking Bartoli in the final game of the opener. She carried that momentum into the next set and rolled from there, improving to 9-3 all-time against the Frenchwoman.
Sunday's winner will collect $848,000.