Azarenka continues to make the most of what is, in essence, her second career. Facing longtime rival Serena Williams on Thursday night in the semifinals of the US Open, the resurgent Belarusian halted the American’s quest for a record 24th Grand Slam singles title, winning for just the fifth time in 23 career head-to-heads in dramatic fashion, 1-6, 6-3, 6-3.

Williams was also seeking an Open era-best seventh title in New York, which would have snapped a deadlock with Chris Evert.

Azarenka moves on to face No. 4 seed Naomi Osaka in the title match on Saturday in Flushing Meadows.

It was sweet revenge for the 31-year-old Azarenka, who came up short against her friend Williams in both the 2012 and 2013 US Open finals. In 10 previous encounters, she had never beaten Williams at a major.

“I’m so grateful to be able to play such a champion in the semifinals,” said the two-time Grand Slam titlist, who’s into a major final for the first time in seven years. “On the road to the final, you have to beat the best players, and definitely today was that day.”

Williams appeared to injure her left achilles stepping into a backhand, and immediately called for a three-minute medical timeout. She returned to the court after a visit from the trainer, only to have her serve broken for the third time, and soon trailed 3-0.

Williams came into the match with a tournament-leading 64 aces, 20 alone coming in her quarterfinal win over Tsvetana Pironkova. But Azarenka managed to neutralize what is arguably the greatest weapon in the history of the sport.

Azarenka’s serve would let her down in the opening set of this much-anticipated matchup of super-moms, both former No. 1s, as Williams surged ahead with a pair of breaks for 4-0. She would add another to close out the set in a speedy 34 minutes. Azarenka landed just 15 of 29 first serves in the stanza, to go along with four double faults. She had dropped just one set en route to semifinal—her most effective run to reach this stage of a Slam since the 2016 Australian Open.

Azarenka, ranked No. 27—her highest spot since returning to the tour from maternity leave in 2017—has long had one of the top return games in the sport. With Williams serving at 2-all, 15-40 in the second set, a re-energized Azarenka hammered a crosscourt backhand winner to grab her first break of the match. Another service break in the ninth game would send the contest to a decisive third set.

Serving in the second game of the final set at 0-1, 30-40, Williams appeared to injure her left achilles stepping into a backhand, and immediately called for a three-minute medical timeout. She returned to the court after a visit from the trainer, only to have her serve broken for the third time, and soon trailed 3-0.

Williams came into the match with a tournament-leading 64 aces, 20 alone coming in her quarterfinal win over Tsvetana Pironkova. But Azarenka managed to neutralize what is arguably the greatest weapon in the history of the sport and is now riding an 11-match winning streak since the resumption of tour play, including a title at the Western & Southern Open.

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