Former champion Maria Sharapova beat second seed Petra Kvitova in three sets to reach the final of the Australian Open and set up a shoot-out for the number one spot with Victoria Azarenka.
The Russian, seeded fourth, overcame some poor serving to outlast Kvitova 6-2, 3-6, 6-4 and move into Saturday night's final, where she will play Belarusian Azarenka, the third seed.
In a rematch of last year's Wimbledon final, Kvitova and Sharapova threw everything they had at each other for almost two and a quarter hours on Rod Laver Arena.
Sharapova, who won in Melbourne in 2008, dominated the first set and Kvitova the second, with the pair evenly matched in the third until Kvitova faltered at 4-5 to lose her serve and send Sharapova through to the final.
The Russian struggled with her serve all afternoon but somehow managed to stay in the contest despite sending down 10 double faults, many at key moments.
"I felt like in the third she always had the advantage because I was always down on my serve," Sharapova said.
"And I just thought you have got to go for it."
Kvitova had 14 break point opportunities but only managed to convert three of them as the tenacious Sharapova somehow managed to hold on.
By contrast Sharapova had only five break point chances on Kvitova's serve, but won them all.
"I just hung in there and got a few returns in in the last game," she said. "She was serving so well in the third. Maybe that was the key."
The left-handed Kvitova, 21, looked nervous in the early stages with Sharapova appearing far more settled than her younger opponent.
The 24-year-old Russian dominated the baseline rallies and tended to come out on top the longer they went on, wrapping up the first set in 36 minutes.
But Kvitova lifted her game at the start of the second and raced into a commanding 3-0 lead when she held serve after Sharapova served two double faults to surrender an early break.
The world number two was growing in confidence and she was untroubled as she took the second set with a booming ace to level the match.
Kvitova gained the early advantage in the third, breaking Sharapova to take a 2-1 lead as the Russian's serving woes continued, but the Czech's nerves got the better of her and some poor serving saw her drop the next game.
Games then went with serve in the third set, with Sharapova struggling to hold and Kvitova cruising, but at 4-5 the Czech cracked and Sharapova erupted with delight as she reached her third Australian Open final
Sharapova, who burst onto the tennis scene in 2004 when she won Wimbledon as a 17-year-old, took the US Open title in 2006 and the Australian Open in 2008.
She will be aiming for her fourth major singles title but her first since she underwent major shoulder surgery in 2008, which kept her out of action for almost a year.
She will also be eyeing the top ranking, with the winner of Saturday's final guaranteed to be named number one when the new rankings list is released on Monday.
AFPTags: tennis, sport, australian-open, melbourne-3000 First posted January 26, 2012 18:32:06