By HOWARD FENDRICH
AP Tennis Writer
NEW YORK - Normally so good, so gritty, in the crucible of the third set, Maria Sharapova finally met her match against Victoria Azarenka.
Coming all the way back from a set and a break down, the top-seeded Azarenka prevailed in a stirring third, beating four-time Grand Slam champion Sharapova 3-6, 6-2, 6-4 on Friday to reach her first U.S. Open final.
"This one didn't go my way," Sharapova said. "Frustrating, but it's the game of tennis. A lot of swings in the match today. Certainly had the lead and the advantage."
Entering Friday, Sharapova was 12-0 in three-setters this year, and had won 78 consecutive matches in which she took the opening set, a streak dating to 2010. But Azarenka broke in the last game to push her own 2012 record to 12-0 in matches that went the distance.
"Actually, I didn't know that statistic," Azarenka said during an on-court interview. "It's pretty good."
On Saturday, Australian Open champion Azarenka will play in her second major final of the season - and career - against 14-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams. Seeking a fourth title at Flushing Meadows, the fourth-seeded Williams wasted little time or energy while overwhelming 10th-seeded Sara Errani of Italy 6-1, 6-2.
Williams, trying to become the first 30-year-old woman to win the U.S. Open since Martina Navratilova in 1987, compiled a 38-6 edge in winners in her 64-minute semifinal against Errani.
Since a surprising exit at the French Open in late May, her only first-round loss in 49 appearances at major tournaments, Williams is 25-1, including a title at Wimbledon and gold medal at the London Olympics.
Williams owns a 9-1 career record against Azarenka.
Then again, the way Azarenka dealt with Sharapova, she's probably feeling pretty good about herself, too. She sure looked pleased while doing a little jig, then chucking some tennis balls into the stands, after the fading Sharapova's forehand sailed long on the final point of their 2-hour, 42-minute quarterfinal.
"I was just not trying to focus on the score," Azarenka said. "Trying to give whatever it takes."
At The USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center
Purse: $25.5 million (Grand Slam)
Victoria Azarenka (1), Belarus, def. Maria Sharapova (3), Russia, 3-6, 6-2, 6-4.
Serena Williams (4), United States, def. Sara Errani (10), Italy, 6-1, 6-2.
Bob and Mike Bryan (2), United States, def. Leander Paes, India, and Radek Stepanek (5), Czech Republic, 6-3, 6-4.