Serena, Victoria Azarenka in final

Updated: September 7, 2012, 10:02 PM ET
Associated Press

NEW YORK -- The latest woman to absorb a lopsided loss against Serena Williams thinks the 14-time Grand Slam champion should take on a new challenge.

"Given that men are always quick to say women are a lot worse ... I'd love to see her play in a (lower-level) men's tournament and see how they deal with her. It's easy to talk. On the court, it would be different," the 10th-seeded Sara Errani said.

"I've practiced with a lot of guys ranked 400th or 500th," Errani said. "I've never played with a man who hits as hard as she does."

Williams wasted little time or energy while overwhelming Italy's Errani 6-1, 6-2 on Friday night to reach the final and move one victory away from a fourth U.S. Open championship. With a 38-6 edge in winners and nine aces to raise her tournament-leading total to 50, Williams needed only 64 minutes to dismiss Errani, the runner-up at the French Open.

Not only has Williams won every set she's played, she's dropped a total of only 19 games across six matches.

Indeed, Errani found some satisfaction in forcing Williams to stay on court for more than an hour.

"My objective," Errani said, "was to prolong the match as much as possible."

In Saturday night's final, the fourth-seeded Williams will face top-ranked Victoria Azarenka of Belarus, who beat Maria Sharapova in three sets earlier Friday. Williams is 9-1 against Azarenka.

"Obviously, Victoria wants to win, too," Williams told the crowd in Arthur Ashe Stadium. "But I'm American, guys. Last one standing. Go USA!"

It was 12 months ago that Williams was stunned in straight sets in the U.S. Open final by Sam Stosur of Australia. Facing a break point at the start of the second set, Williams pounded a forehand she celebrated with her familiar yell of "Come on!" But she screamed as Stosur was reaching to return the shot. The chair umpire awarded the point to Stosur, setting Williams off on a series of insults directed at the official, including, "You're just unattractive inside."

In the 2009 semifinals in New York, Williams launched into her infamous foot-fault tirade and was docked a point on match point, ending a loss to Kim Clijsters.

When a reporter mentioned to Williams, who won the U.S. Open in 1999, 2002 and 2008, that nothing of that sort has happened this year, she replied: "Hey, it's not done yet."

"Well, I did grunt once today, and I thought, 'God, I hope I don't lose the point,' " Williams said. "Like I said, my goal this year was not to get in any fights."

Everything has gone so smoothly these two weeks.

It's part of a stretch of dominance that has carried her to a 25-1 record since a shocking first-round exit at the French Open in late May, the only time in 49 Grand Slam appearances that Williams lost her opening match.

Her recent surge includes titles at Wimbledon and the London Olympics.

"It's really awesome," Williams said in an on-court interview. "That is what I wanted, and what I dreamed of, all year."

In many ways, her semifinal was a complete mismatch.

Errani had never been past the third round at the U.S. Open -- and never past the fourth round at any major tournament -- until this year. She reached the quarterfinals at the Australian Open in January, then made it all the way to the final at the French Open, losing there to Sharapova.

Given that men are always quick to say women are a lot worse ... I'd love to see her play in a (lower-level) men's tournament and see how they deal with her. ... I've practiced with a lot of guys ranked 400th or 500th. I've never played with a man who hits as hard as she does."

-- Sara Errani after losing to Serena Williams in U.S. Open semifinals
So Friday's match was only her second major semifinal, Williams' 22nd, and that disparity showed right from the outset.

Errani did not even come within a point of winning a game until she already trailed 5-0. When Williams netted a backhand, Errani got on the board at 5-1.

By then, the outcome was clear.

When Errani finally won a second game, getting to 2-1 in the second set with an inside-out forehand to hold serve, she let out a yelp and skipped toward the sideline.

Errani won the first point of the next game, too, with a well-angled groundstroke winner that made it love-15.

At that moment, it was as if Williams said to herself, "OK, enough is enough."

She won four points in a row to hold for a 3-1 lead like this: 102 mph service winner, 117 mph ace, 114 mph ace, 119 mph ace.

In the next game, Williams dumped a swinging backhand volley into the net and hopped in place, angry with herself, but then restored order to break yet again and make it 4-1.

Williams, who turns 31 on Sept. 26, is trying to become the first 30-year-old woman to win the U.S. Open since Martina Navratilova in 1987. She's also hoping to become the first woman with championships at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open since -- yes, you guessed it -- Williams did it in 2002.

"She's not unbeatable. No one is unbeatable. Anyone can lose. But if she plays well, she's the best in the world," Errani said. "It's stressful against her. She puts a lot of pressure on you. You need to play quickly. You don't have even a tiny chance to control a point the way you would want to."

Coming all the way back from a set and a break down, Azarenka prevailed in a stirring third, beating four-time Grand Slam champion Sharapova 3-6, 6-2, 6-4.

"This one didn't go my way," Sharapova said. "Frustrating, but it's the game of tennis. A lot of swings in the match today. Certainly had the lead and the advantage."

Entering Friday, Sharapova was 12-0 in three-setters this year, and had won 78 consecutive matches in which she took the opening set, a streak dating to 2010. But Azarenka broke in the last game to push her own 2012 record to 12-0 in matches that went the distance.

"I didn't know that statistic," Azarenka said during an on-court interview. "It's pretty good."

Perfect, actually.

Given a chance to rest for a bit after the second set by a 10-minute break requested by Sharapova under the extreme heat rule, both women came out swinging away in the third. Azarenka emerged from the locker room before Sharapova and took the opportunity to practice groundstrokes and serves with ballkids.

The third set was filled with high-quality play, made all the more impressive considering the sun, the swirling wind and what was at stake. They hit the ball hard. They chased down shots with terrific defense. Sharapova even shifted her racket from her right to her left hand during a couple of lengthy exchanges.

Victoria Azarenka, Serena Willams
Getty ImagesSerena Williams (right) has yet to drop a set at the 2012 U.S. Open. Victoria Azarenka will hope to change that in Saturday's final.

One particularly intense and riveting game came with Sharapova serving while trailing 2-1. Azarenka accumulated three break points, but Sharapova saved each, the last with a cross-court backhand winner. After a fifth deuce, Sharapova eventually held with a 109 mph ace, one of her eight in the match.

But the third-seeded Sharapova also double-faulted 10 times, a recurring theme ever since she returned from surgery on her right shoulder in 2008.

"I gave her too many free points," Sharapova said.

This has been a resurgent year for the Russian, who completed a career Grand Slam by winning the French Open in June, was the runner-up at the Australian Open and the Olympics, and briefly returned to No. 1 in the rankings -- a spot that now belongs to Azarenka.

"I'll take the results I had this year," Sharapova said.

She reached her first U.S. Open semifinal since winning the 2006 title thanks to overcoming deficits en route to three-set victories in the fourth round and quarterfinals.

But she didn't have one more late-match charge in her.

With a cloudless blue sky and the temperature above 85 degrees, Arthur Ashe Stadium was steamy when Sharapova and Azarenka got started, shrieking loudly with nearly every stroke.

Well, Sharapova was ready at the outset, anyway. Azarenka? Not so much.

Sharapova took 12 of the first 17 points, hitting deep, clean groundstrokes, while Azarenka needed 18 minutes to win a single game. When they met in the Australian Open final, Sharapova won a total of three games. She equaled that by the time she led 3-0 when Friday's semifinal was 11 minutes old.


Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press

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