Wimbledon, England – American great Serena Williams powered her way into a seventh Wimbledon final, while Poland's Agnieszka Radwanska reached her first-ever Grand Slam championship match in Thursday's women's semifinal action at The Championships.
In a battle of former world No. 1s, a sixth-seeded Williams beat second-seeded Victoria Azarenka 6-3, 7-6 (8-6), while the first semi of the day saw a third- seeded Radwanska roll past eighth-seeded German Angelique Kerber 6-3, 6-4 on Centre Court at the storied All England Club.
Williams landed in her 18th major final (13-4) by getting past a quality opponent in Azarenka, who held the top-ranking for a majority of this year after capturing her first Grand Slam title at the Australian Open in January.
Azarenka would have returned to No. 1 with a victory on Thursday, but that didn't happen.
Williams cruised in the opening set behind an unstoppable service game, as she simply overpowered her Belarusian counterpart.
Azarenka tried to fight her way back into the match in the second, playing much better tennis en route to a tiebreak.
She somehow managed to break Williams to level the second set at 3-all, and the two players stayed on serve over the next six games on their way to the breaker.
In the extra session, Azarenka dumped a forehand into the net to cap a fierce rally and give Williams her first match point, at 6-5. The American failed to convert when she sent a forehand lob long on tennis' most-famous court.
Azarenka then netted a backhand to give Williams a second match point, which she converted with a women's Wimbledon-record 24th ace on a sunny day in this London suburb.
"I've been working so hard, and I really, I really wanted it," Williams said. "I got a little tight in the second set. I couldn't relax. I was like, looking too far in the future and she came back. But I'm glad I was able to get through."
Williams moved on in 1 hour, 36 minutes, as she unleashed 23 more aces than Azarenka, who settled for just one break on Day 10. Williams tallied two breaks in victory and a whopping 31 more winners (45-14).
The veteran Williams is now 8-1 lifetime against Azarenka. The American bested the Belarusian in a Wimbledon quarterfinal three years ago and also topped her on some blue clay in Madrid earlier this season.
The 22-year-old Azarenka was appearing in her second straight Wimbledon (0-2) and third career Grand Slam semifinal (1-2).
Williams improved to 7-1 in her Wimbledon semis.
Meanwhile, playing in her first-ever Grand Slam semifinal, Radwanska prevailed in 70 minutes as she broke an unfocused Kerber three times on as many break- point chances, compared to only one break in three opportunities for the German. Kerber also tallied eight more unforced errors than her Polish counterpart (14-6).
Radwanska broke for a 5-3 lead in the first set thanks to a pair of crucial backhand errors from Kerber, and the determined Pole closed out the stanza in the next game with a big ace.
In the second set, a series of Kerber errors led to a Radwanska break in the fifth game. And Kerber's last chance came when she had a break point, down 2-3, but she was unable to convert and Radwanska would serve out the match four games later.
The steady Radwanska is now 3-2 lifetime against the lefthander Kerber, who upset the Pole in the second round at last year's U.S. Open.
Radwanska is the first Polish Grand Slam finalist in 73 years, or since Jadwiga Jedrzejowska lost in the women's title match at the French Championships in 1939. She can become the No. 1 player in the world with a victory over Williams in two days.
"I'm so happy, it's amazing. I played very good today," Radwanska said. "It's always tough against Angie. We are very good friends, but of course on court we were both fighting for the final.
"I think we were both a bit nervous in the beginning, your hand is shaking a bit, but after a couple of games I relaxed.
"This is what I dreamed of since I was a kid. Everyone wants to reach a Grand Slam final. It is the best two weeks of my career."
The 24-year-old Kerber was appearing in her first Wimbledon and second career Grand Slam semifinal (0-2). She reached the final four at last year's U.S. Open.
Williams is seeking the 42nd overall title of her brilliant career, including a third this season. She's already titled in Charleston and Madrid in 2012.
The 30-year-old star and her older sister Venus have combined to win nine of the last 12 Wimbledon titles. Serena will go for number five on Saturday.
Last year's U.S. Open runner-up Williams is 4-2 in her previous Wimbledon finals, as she titled back-to-back here in 2002 and 2003 and 2009 and 2010.
The 23-year-old Krakow native Radwanska, a junior Wimbledon champ back in 2005, will appear in her 13th career WTA final, seeking an 11th title. She's 3-0 in her 2012 title tilts.
Williams is 2-0 lifetime against Radwanska, including a Wimbledon quarterfinal victory four years ago. The American will be a heavy favorite in the final.
Saturday's big winner will collect $1.8 million.
Later in the day Thursday, Serena and Venus won a quarterfinal doubles match.