Experience pays for Sharapova, Kvitova

WIMBLEDON, England -- A harsh, grating noise pierced the decorum of Centre Court but, for once, Victoria Azarenka was not responsible.

It was a smoke alarm in a bathroom for ticket holders that was activated when an attendant, attempting to reverse a disturbing trend, sprayed air freshener.

Petra Kvitova managed this first-set, fifth-game distraction with aplomb, waiting patiently for Azarenka to miss two backhands wide. Although they are the same age, 21, Azarenka is far more experienced. Yet No. 8-seeded Kvitova maintained her composure far better in winning Thursday's semifinal 6-1, 3-6, 6-2.

They say you should act like you've been there, but how do you know how to act if you haven't been there? This was Azarenka's first major semifinal, and, in the critical moments, she played like a nervous neophyte. Kvitova? Clearly, she learned some lessons from last year's semifinal loss to Serena Williams here at the All England Club.

Her opponent in Saturday's final is Maria Sharapova, who handled German wild card Sabine Lisicki 6-4, 6-3.

Sharapova had an enormous wealth of experience, and as with Kvitova, it served her well. This was her 12th Grand Slam singles semifinal; Lisicki, like Azarenka, was playing in her first. It was seven years ago that Sharapova broke through as a 17-year-old on the major stage. After suffering a serious shoulder injury and wondering whether she would ever play again, a second Wimbledon title would make for some sweet symmetry.

"It's amazing to be back in the final," Sharapova said afterward. "It has been awhile. To break through, I'm really happy even though I didn't play my best tennis."

Indeed, she'll have to clean up her serve if she wants to beat Kvitova. Sharapova landed only 48 percent of her first serves in and committed 13 double faults.

Lisicki, who had raised her ranking more than 150 spots after a debilitating ankle injury last year, had surprised two top-10 players -- French Open champion Li Na and Marion Bartoli -- on the way to the semifinals. But after taking a 3-0 lead on Sharapova, she appeared unnerved.

Sharapova, despite a flurry of early double faults, worked her way back into the match. A backhand sprayed long gave Sharapova her first break and, ultimately, the set.

Through six rounds, No. 6-seeded Sharapova has won all 12 of her sets and dropped only 32 games.

In retrospect, you could see this coming.

Sharapova has been getting stronger as the season has progressed. She was a finalist at Miami, and, in May, she won in Rome, the biggest clay-court title of her life, beating No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki and Azarenka along the way. She followed that up with a quarterfinal appearance at Roland Garros, then returned to Wimbledon, where it all began seven years ago.

Kvitova, meanwhile, is the first left-hander through to the final here since her idol, fellow Czech Martina Navratilova, did it 17 years ago. Navratilova, working as a television analyst at the tournament, watched from the Royal Box and has encouraged her throughout the fortnight. Kvitova has won 11 of her past 12 matches at Wimbledon.

A few minutes after closing out Azarenka, Kvitova's voice was still quavering.

"I can't say anything," she said, nonetheless. "I am so happy. I cannot believe I am in the final. All match, it was about [the] serve. I'm so happy my serve was good in the third set."

Azarenka, for one, thinks Kvitova can win the tournament.

"I think she can beat anybody any day," Azarenka said, "because right now she has really good game. You know, she's really going for it. She's going to play like this, like she played today, I'm sure she has all the chances to win the next match."

We shall see, for experience on Centre Court carried the day in these semifinals. Kvitova knows that might work against her in the final.

"Yeah, of course she has experience," Kvitova said. "She won here already, so she knows how it [goes] in the final at the Wimbledon. She has an advantage with this. But we played already and I lost, so now I have to beat her."

If experience reigns again Saturday, Sharapova will have won her fourth major title and her first in more than three years.

"I have realistic expectations," she said. "I haven't gone past the fourth round in the last couple of years. She's a really tricky player, a great grass-court player. A tough match, but I'm looking forward to it.

"I feel like I have more to do."

Greg Garber is a senior writer for ESPN.com.