Williams, Sharapova to play for season-ending title
Istanbul, Turkey – Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova were semifinal winners Saturday and will play for the title at the season-ending WTA Championships.
Williams needed a mere 61 minutes in a 6-2, 6-1 rout of a tired Agnieszka Radwanska in the first semifinal before Sharapova polished off newly-anointed season-ending No. 1 Victoria Azarenka, 6-4, 6-2.
Azarenka was assured of the year-end No. 1 distinction by winning a pair of matches during the round-robin portion of this week's tournament, but she had no answer for Sharapova on Saturday after dominating the Russian star for most of 2012.
Sharapova entered this weekend's semifinals just 1-4 this year against Azarenka, including a loss to the Belarusian in the final of the Australian Open. Sharapova then fell to Azarenka in the final at Indian Wells before prevailing for the title when the two met in Stuttgart. Azarenka, though, had won the two most-recent matchups -- in the semifinals at the U.S. Open and the final in Beijing.
Azarenka rolled to a 6-3, 6-1 decision earlier this month in China, but Sharapova turned the tables on Saturday. A second break for a 3-2 lead gave Sharapova the decisive edge in a 47-minute first set. The 2004 WTA champ then broke twice in winning the first four games of the second to advance to the final for a third time.
"I certainly didn't make as many mistakes today as I did in our previous matches," said Sharapova. "I also returned a little bit better, although I still feel like I could have returned better than I did today."
In addition to winning this title in 2004, Sharapova was the runner-up in 2007. She hasn't lost yet this week, winning all three of her White Group round-robin matches before Saturday's triumph.
Williams is also unbeaten this week. She beat Angelique Kerber, Li Na and Azarenka -- all in straight sets -- to claim first place in the Red Group and on Sunday will try for her third title at the season-ending event, having previously won it in 2001 and 2009.
Saturday's match was virtually no contest. Radwanska, coming off a 3 1/2-hour effort on Friday in a win against Italy's Sara Errani, won two straight games to square the first set at two apiece. It was all Williams from there.
"I really tried today and I really wanted to run, but my legs just didn't," said Radwanska. "This is the kind of tournament where you have to be fit every match to win. I was trying, but Serena played too fast. I couldn't do anything."
The American star won 10 of the final 11 games to reach the final for the fifth time. In addition to her two wins, Williams also lost the title match in 2002 and 2004.
The 2004 setback came against Sharapova -- one of only two wins for the Russian in 11 lifetime meetings against Williams. The other victory also came in 2004, a stunning 6-1, 6-4 rout in that year's Wimbledon finale.
Williams has won the last eight meetings with Sharapova, including two this year. She claimed a 6-1, 6-3 triumph in the Madrid quarterfinals before a 6-0, 6-1 annihilation for the gold medal at the London Olympics.
Sharapova and Williams combined to win three of this year's four Grand Slam events. After Azarenka captured the Australian Open, Sharapova completed a career Grand Slam by finally winning the French Open. Williams then claimed the titles at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.
Williams, in fact, has won 47 of her last 49 matches. She won titles this year in Charleston, Madrid and Stanford in addition to the major championships and the Olympics. On Sunday, she will try for her 46th career title.
Sharapova has 27 career titles, including three this year. She hasn't hoisted a trophy, though, since Roland Garros, winning titles previously in Stuttgart and Rome.
The Russian-born Florida resident owns a career record of 27-18 in finals, including a disappointing 3-5 mark this year.
Sunday's winner will claim a first prize of $1.75 million as an undefeated champion.