New York: Victoria Azarenka stunned Serena Williams 1-6, 6-3, 6-3 in a semifinal of supermoms at the US Open on Thursday, denying the American the chance of winning a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam singles title on home soil this year.
Azarenka will play Japan's Naomi Osaka on Saturday in her third final at Flushing Meadows, having lost the previous two to Serena in 2012 and 2013.
Azarenka said her mental game had been crucial in beating the 38-year-old Serena, who needed a medical timeout to have her left ankle re-taped in the third set due to Achilles trouble.
"I have been working on finding a calm mind and keep the body going," the Belarusian said in an on-court interview. "She dug me in a big hole in the first set. I needed to find energy to climb out of the hole and it wasn't easy."
Serena, who has been stuck on 23 Grand Slam titles since winning the 2017 Australian Open, said the defeat was "obviously disappointing"."At the same time ... I did what I could today," she added."I feel like other times I've been close and I could have done better. Today I felt like I gave a lot."
Six-time US Open champion Serena came out firing winners from all sides of the Arthur Ashe Stadium court while Azarenka struggled with her serve, committing four double faults in the first set and winning just six of 15 first-serve points. She also had 10 unforced errors and appeared increasingly frustrated, with a mic catching her muttering a pair of expletives at herself before Serena took a 4-1 lead.
Serena wrapped up the opening set in little more than half an hour but Azarenka seized momentum in the second frame, breaking the third seed's serve with a pair of backhand winners from the baseline to take a 3-2 lead. Playing her first Grand Slam semifinal in seven years, Azarenka got the better of Serena in some explosive exchanges of power-hitting while her serve also saw major improvement.
The 31-year-old took the set to force a decider after winning nearly 75 per cent of her first-serve points and committing just one unforced error. The twice Australian Open champion kept up the pressure in the third set and looked to be in a deep meditative state as Serena had her ankle taped, not even reacting as an insect landed on the bridge of her nose as she waited to resume the match.
Azarenka then sealed her place in the final with an ace.
Two-time Grand Slam champion Osaka advanced to the US Open final for the second time in her career with a 7-6(1), 3-6, 6-3 victory over big-hitting Jennifer Brady.
Brady arrived at her first Grand Slam semifinal without having dropped a set in New York and did not show any nerves but Osaka's firepower allowed her to get by the American 28th seed in a high-quality match.
Fourth seed Osaka, who two years ago in New York won the first of two consecutive Grand Slam titles, fired 35 winners, and had 17 unforced errors inside Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Osaka's victory ended a splendid US Open run for Brady, whose previous best Grand Slam performances came in 2017 when she reached the fourth round in Melbourne and New York.