Azarenka good enough to reach final

NEW YORK -- Can Victoria Azarenka beat Serena Williams and win her first US Open if she isn't playing her best tennis?

One person who believes she can is none other than Williams' coach, Patrick Mouratoglou.

"[Williams is] playing really good tennis, but we have to be really careful not to be overconfident," Mouratoglou said, "especially before playing Victoria. I've said it before, she's always able to play her best tennis in the big matches and especially against Serena like she did in Cincinnati. She was not playing really well during the tournament and she played by far her best match in the final.

Robert Deutsch/USA TODAY Sports

Last year Victoria Azarenka came up short in the US Open final. What's in store for her against Serena Williams this time?

"So no overconfidence, Serena knows that Victoria is dangerous and that she will have to play her best tennis to beat her."

The No. 2 seed fought through a scattered serve and errors to beat unseeded Italian Flavia Pennetta 6-4, 6-2. Azarenka won just two of her own service games in the first set, winning only because Pennetta could hold in only one of her own.

For her part, Azarenka was vexed, screeching when a number of her attempted drop shots fluttered into the net.

"I'm happy I'm in the final," Azarenka said. "There are always things that can be better. I felt like, you know, the first set was a little bit tricky. Momentum wasn't there a little bit. I felt like I had great groundstrokes, everything. You know, just one shot wasn't working and threw my rhythm a little bit off balance. Overall, you know, just being able to pick up and raise the level in the important moments, that's what, you know, it's all about, to be able to do that."

The 6-foot Azarenka was clearly the more powerful player, but still was playing at just a percentage of what she seems capable of. She won the Australian Open, but took five weeks off this summer after sustaining a hip injury at Wimbledon.

"She's a good player on hard court, she's powerful," Pennetta said. "She's big, so she has a good angle when you move her. She moves well."

The rallies Friday lengthened, and Pennetta played a defensive game well behind the baseline, coming in to successfully mix in a volley now and again. Pennetta also won five of six break points, while ceding 13 break points to Azarenka.

"I think just the rhythm sometimes is off," Azarenka said. "Sometimes can be a little bit emotional, but sometimes just so focused that you don't realize what you're doing wrong. So it's just a mix. But I think, you know, when I need to do something it comes back, so it's just a matter of being consistent and understanding of what I have to do on the court."

Can Azarenka give anyone a game in the final? She is a shadow of the dominant player who reached the same round here last year. She spent more time on court than any other semifinalist coming into her match, 8 hours and 19 minutes. Compare that to 5 hours and 42 minutes by the quickest semifinalist, Williams.

"Obviously when Victoria plays Serena it's a pleasure," Azarenka's coach, Sam Sumyk, said. "I don't have a crystal ball, I don't know what's going to happen on Sunday. I'm just enjoying this win because to get a win is very difficult."

When it comes to games, Azarenka has lost 40 on the way to the final.

The Belarusian needed three sets to get by her third- and fourth-round opponents, Alize Cornet and Ana Ivanovic.

This was a good tournament for Pennetta. She swashbuckled her way through four seeds, including fellow Italians No. 10 Roberta Vinci and No. 4 Sara Errani, to reach the first Grand Slam semifinal of her career. After wrist surgery a year ago, her ranking will spike from the 83 she held coming into the tournament.

"Today I have my chance I didn't make it in the first set," Pennetta said.

Azarenka won the tournament in Cincinnati, beating Williams in the final leading up to the US Open. Azarenka may not have been playing her best then either, but she was able to find the mettle to win the title.

Will Azarenka be able to find that same magic Sunday in the women's final? It may depend of how much of her service game shows up on Arthur Ashe Stadium with her.

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