New York - Defending champion Serena Williams and world number two Victoria
Azarenka marched into a repeat of last year's US Open final on Friday.
Top seed Williams, chasing a 17th Grand Slam title, crushed China's Li Na
6-0, 6-3 while Azarenka took an error-strewn 6-4, 6-2 win over Italian veteran
Williams, 31, seeking a fifth title in New York, will be the overwhelming favourite
in Sunday's final as she boasts a 12-3 career lead over her 24-year-old
However, not all is lost for Azarenka, who beat the American in the
Cincinnati final just before the US Open.
"I just try hard and when I hear young and old voices in the crowd shouting
'Go Serena, Go Serena' it makes me feel so special," said Williams.
"When I play Victoria we always have good matches. She's a great player
who lifts her game when it counts."
Williams raced through the first set in just 29 minutes with three breaks of
serve as Chinese fifth seed Li, playing in her first US Open semi-final, wilted
under the American's trademark barrage.
It was Williams' fifth love-set of the tournament, having reached the
semi-finals for the loss of just 13 games.
Li, the 2011 French Open champion, showed great resolve to make a fight of
it in the second set, hitting back for 2-1 against a player who went into the
match with an 8-1 career stranglehold over her.
Li saved six match points in the 13-minute eighth game of the second set but
was finally beaten when a service return was dumped in the net, having hit just
eight winners in the 87-minute tie.
"I was feeling I need more practice. It's not about the technique. I
should not be nervous because it's not first time I play semis," said Li.
World number two Azarenka reached her second successive US Open final with a
win over Italian veteran Pennetta, the world number 83, in a match featuring 13
breaks of serve.
It was Australian Open champion Azarenka's third successive semi-final appearance
in New York, but she will need to step it up in the final after committing six
double faults and 25 unforced errors.
"I am so excited to be back in the final and get the chance to fight
for the trophy," said Azarenka.
"It was a great match today. There were lots of emotions. It was tricky
because I struggled to find any rhythm and Flavia is such a great fighter. I
couldn't get a ball in play."
She added: "In the final, I will be facing a great player. I will have
to give it all I have got, all my heart, all my body and all my mind."
In a tense, error-hit first set there were seven breaks of serve in 10 games
with Azarenka, who had spent two hours more on court getting to the semi-finals
than her opponent, struggling to impose her authority.
Azarenka eventually closed out the opener on a sixth point after a 10-minute
Pennetta, bidding to be the first Italian woman to make the US Open final
after missing the 2012 tournament due to a wrist injury, had saved two of them
with a couple of scintillating groundstrokes, one off each wing.
It wasn't pretty for Azarenka, who served up five doubles faults in the set
and hit 18 unforced errors.
The second set also got off to a rocky start with three successive breaks
before Azarenka managed to hold for 3-1 and break the flagging Italian again
for a 4-1 advantage.
Pennetta called for water at the changeover but would have been better off
pleading for mercy after being broken for the seventh time in eight service
The Italian, a former top 10 player who had defeated three seeded players to
reach the last four, clung on and broke back before she surrendered the
advantage yet again, dropping serve for the eighth time.
It was her last chance. Azarenka went to three match points in the eighth
game and claimed victory after 94 minutes with a wrong-footing forehand.
"I didn't serve really well, but neither did she. There was a lot of
wind in the court and it's not easy to serve," said Pennetta.
"She is very big and powerful and puts you under a lot of pressure."
US Open results on Friday (x denotes seeded player):
Victoria Azarenka (BLR x2) bt Flavia Pennetta (ITA) 6-4, 6-2
Serena Williams (USA x1) bt Li Na (CHN x5) 6-0, 6-3
Andrea Hlavackova/Lucie Hradecka (CZE/CZE x5) bt Serena Williams/Venus Williams (USA/USA) 6-4, 6-2
Andrea Hlavackova/Max Mirnyi (CZE/BLR x7) bt Abigail Spears/Santiago Gonzalez (USA/MEX) 7-6 (7/5), 6-3