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Sharapova faces Serena in WTA final

updated 1:52 PM EDT, Sat October 27, 2012
Russian tennis star Maria Sharapova in action during Saturday's semifinal win over world No. 1 Victoria Azarenka.
Russian tennis star Maria Sharapova in action during Saturday's semifinal win over world No. 1 Victoria Azarenka.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Maria Sharapova sets up final clash with Serena Williams at WTA Championships
  • She has lost to American in last eight encounters but beat her in the 2004 final
  • Sharapova defeats world No. 1 Victoria Azarenka in Saturday's second semifinal
  • Williams cruised into her fifth final, beating fourth-ranked Agnieszka Radwanska

(CNN) -- The last time Maria Sharapova beat Serena Williams, the Russian was just 17. It was the final of the 2004 WTA Championships, and the victory capped her breakthrough year after an attention-grabbing first grand slam title at Wimbledon.

Fast forward eight years, and history is repeating as the two biggest names in women's tennis meet again in Sunday's climax to the season-ending championships in Turkey.

Neither ended 2004 ranked as No. 1, and the same will be the case this time.

Sharapova overpowered Victoria Azarenka 6-4 6-2 in the second of Saturday's semifinals, but the Belorussian had already guaranteed the year-end top spot by winning two of her group games.

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However, it was a measure of revenge for the second-ranked Russian, who lost to Azarenka in January's Australian Open final, the U.S. Open semifinals and in two other tournament title matches -- the most recent in Beijing earlier this month.

"When you find yourself in a losing position a few times during the year, you want to try to figure out how to change those things around," Sharapova said. "I certainly didn't make as many mistakes today as I did in our previous matches this year.

"I'd lost to Victoria the last few times, so I'm really happy I put myself in the semifinals to play against her and try to improve that -- I was hoping to have a better result, and I'm happy I did today."

While she ended her losing run against Azarenka, Sharapova must now break a streak of eight successive defeats against Williams -- who thrashed her in August's Olympic final.

The American, who won the WTA event in 2001 and 2009, reached the final for the fifth time with a 6-2 6-1 demolition of fourth-ranked Agnieszka Radwanska in a rematch of July's Wimbledon final.

The Pole had been on court for three and a half hours in winning her final group match on Friday, and it showed as U.S. Open champion Williams -- who had a rest day -- needed just 61 minutes to complete victory.

"Those last two matches really killed me," Radwanska said. "Especially that I didn't have the day off, and especially that surface -- it's very sticky, so three and a half hours is a lot.

"I really tried today and I really wanted to run, but my legs just didn't. This is the kind of tournament where you have to be fit every match to win.

"I was trying, but Serena played too fast. I couldn't do anything."

Williams, playing her first tournament since claiming her 15th grand slam title in New York, has now won 17 matches in a row against top-five players and has lost just twice in her last 49 matches.

"I probably had an idea she was tired," the 31-year-old. "I just told her that it was awesome she played so well and played through another match, after playing a good eight hours. It was really inspiring for me."

Serena Williams of the United States celebrates defeating Victoria Azarenka of Belarus 6-2, 2-6, 7-5 in the 2012 U.S. Open women's singles final on Sunday, September 9, in New York. See more U.S. Open action here. Serena Williams of the United States celebrates defeating Victoria Azarenka of Belarus 6-2, 2-6, 7-5 in the 2012 U.S. Open women's singles final on Sunday, September 9, in New York. See more U.S. Open action here.
2012 U.S. Open women's final
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Maria Sharapova has come a long way since turning professional on her 14th birthday in April 2001, having played the game since she was four years old. Maria Sharapova has come a long way since turning professional on her 14th birthday in April 2001, having played the game since she was four years old.
The Sharapova story
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Azarenka was last year's runner-up but her hopes of reaching another final were seemingly hampered by an injury that left her in tears at times during the second set.

She is 62-0 this year in matches where she has won the first set, but Sharapova improved her record in such circumstances to 51-1.

"I'm not going to say I was the freshest today, but I also don't want to make any excuses," Azarenka said.

"I think Agnieszka felt much worse than me today. I saw her before the match and we looked at each other and we laughed really hard. That says it all."

While Azarenka has just one grand slam to her name, she won five other tournaments this year, reached three more finals, claimed bronze at London 2012 and was ranked No. 1 for all but four weeks.

"I'm really proud of what I've done the whole year," the 23-year-old said. "I started the year with No.3 and I finished with No.1, which in numbers doesn't seem like a huge jump, but we all know in reality it's a pretty big difference.

"I finished the year a much more mature person. I'm very proud of that too. The whole year was a lot of learning experience, trying new things and taking the whole journey with the good and a few bads -- I didn't have many. I cannot complain about this year."

Meanwhile, Roger Federer reached the final of his home Swiss Indoors event for the ninth time with a 7-5 6-4 win over France's Paul-Henri Mathieu on Saturday.

The world No. 1 is now level with John McEnroe on 875 career wins, leaving them equal fourth. If he beats his 2009 U.S. Open final conqueror Juan Martin del Potro on Sunday to win the Basel hard-court tournament for the sixth time, the 31-year-old will match American McEnroe on 77 top-level titles.

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