Victoria Azarenka will take on Naomi Osaka for this year’s US Open women’s single crown after the Belarusian stunned hometown favourite Serena Williams in three sets.
Azarenka overcame Williams in a dramatic semi-final, coming back from a set down to overpower the American 1-6 6-3 6-3, to set up a showdown with the Japanese star.
The Belarusian was brilliant as she claimed her first win against Williams in 11 career slam match-ups between the pair.
The victory will have gone some way to banishing the memories of the 2012 final when Azarenka was leading Williams 5-3 and serving for the championship in the final set, only for the American to win four games in a row to claim the title.
This time Williams, who was already was struggling to keep up in a fast-paced match, stopped behind the baseline after a third-set point and leaned over.
She held that pose for a bit, then clutched at her left ankle and asked for a trainer.
While Williams took a medical timeout for a tape job, her latest bid for a 24th grand slam singles title seemingly slipping away, her opponent sat in a sideline seat, eyes closed, calm and composed as can be.
After a delay, action resumed, and while Williams raised the force of her shots and volume of her shouts, it was Azarenka who finished off the victory.
The Belarusian, who came into into the tournament unseeded, served out the match. But she was forced to wait for the result of a challenge on her winning serve, which just clipped the line to see her into the final.
The win propels her into her first major final for seven years.
“It’s been seven years? That’s my favourite number,” Azarenka, who won the Australian Open in 2012 and 2013 and lost to Williams in the US Open finals each of those two years, said.
“I guess that’s meant to be. I’m very grateful for this opportunity.
“On the road to the final, you have to beat the best players and today was that day.”
The loss left Williams just short of No.24 yet again.
Earlier, Naomi Osaka has reached the US Open final for the second time after she overcame American Jennifer Brady in a three-set slugfest.
Osaka prevailed 7-6 (7-1) 3-6 6-3 in two hours and eight minutes to advance to Saturday’s final – where the 2018 champion will meet Serena Williams or Victoria Azarenka.
“It means a lot for me. I kind of consider New York my second home,” Osaka, who was born in Japan and moved to the United States as a child, said.
“I kind of love the atmosphere, even though there’s no people here. I feel like this court kind of suits me well.”
Thursday’s match against Brady under the roof at Arthur Ashe Stadium swung when Japanese fourth seed Osaka got her only break of the match to take a 3-1 lead in the third set.
Brady arrived at her first major semi-final without having dropped a set and did not show any nerves but Osaka’s firepower allowed her to get by the 28th seed in a high-quality match.
Osaka continued her tradition this tournament of coming onto court wearing a face mask displaying the name of a black victim of violence to highlight racial injustice.
“For me I feel like just knowing that I’m reaching people,” she said.
“I feel like in this bubble I’m not really sure what’s going on in the outside world. Even a couple days ago when I got the video messages [from the parents of Trayvon Martin and Ahmaud Arbery], for me it was really touching. Me and everyone I know cried. Just knowing that people are hearing my voice.”
Playing for a cause bigger than herself has given Osaka a clear mindset and she played accordingly, firing 35 winners and just 17 unforced errors against Brady.