World number one Victoria Azarenka, the reigning Australian Open champion, advanced to the US Open women's final by defeating
Azarenka defeated the Russian third seed Sharapova 3-6, 6-2, 6-4, while Williams, searching for her fourth US Open title and 15th grand slam, thrashed Errani 6-1, 6-2.
In a rematch of the Australian Open final where Azarenka beat Sharapova to win her first Grand Slam title, the 23-year-old from Belarus moved one victory shy of becoming the first top seed to win the US Open since Justine Henin in 2007.
"I was just trying to grab the first opportunity," Azarenka said. "Maria is such a great player. She came out firing and didn't give me a chance to get into a rhythm. I just kept fighting with all my heart."
This is the first time a US Open women's final four has included the year's prior Grand Slam champions -- Azarenka, Wimbledon and Olympic winner Williams and Sharapova, who completed a career Grand Slam with her Roland Garros title.
Azarenka improved to 12-0 in three-set matches this season while inflicting Sharapova's first three-set defeat in 13 such matches in 2012.
An extra-long break before the third set for excessive heat helped build the drama at Arthur Ashe Stadium, Azarenka practicing with the help of a ball boy as Sharapova went off the court to cool off after dropping the second set.
Sharapova fought off two break points in the fourth game, battled nearly 10 minutes to hold in the sixth but finally surrendered her serve in the final game to fall after two hours and 42 minutes.
"I was trying not to focus on the score," Azarenka said. "I wanted to give whatever it takes. I knew my opponent was going to play hard. I knew I was going to have to play harder."
No top seed has won any Grand Slam crown since Serena Williams in 2010 at Wimbledon.
Azarenka, who will remain number one next week no matter who wins the US Open, had never been beyond the fourth round in New York until this year but will play for her fifth title of the year and the 13th of her career.
Sharapova, who will rise to World No. 2 in next week's rankings, has not reached a US Open final since winning the title in 2006 and failed to become the first woman to reach three Slam finals in the same year since 2006.
Sharapova broke in the second game of the opening set and broke again at love for a 5-1 edge, but back-to-back double faults when she was two points from the set handed Azarenka a break and a lifeline.
Azarenka held and had two chances to break Sharapova in the ninth game before the Russian found her form and captured five of the final six points, taking the set in 40 minutes with her first ace, a 107-mph blast up the middle.
Sharapova, 25, double faulted away a break to hand the ponytailed top seed a 3-1 lead in the second set and Azarenka broke again in the last game to force a third set.
Wimbledon and Olympic champion Williams has reached the final for the loss of just 19 games.
She will take a 9-1 winning record into the final against Azarenka and will go into the game as a big favourite.
"I love playing here. It's always an honour, every time I play here is such a pleasure," said Williams, who was just 17 when she won her first US Open title 13 years ago.
"It's awesome to be back in the final again. I dreamt about this all year and I am really happy. It'll be great to win again, but Victoria also wants it. But hey, I'm the last American standing, so come on guys."
Williams, 30, was barely troubled by 10th-seeded Errani, the French Open runner-up, who she had already defeated three times in three outings prior to Friday's mismatch.
She broke three times in the first set, which was wrapped-up in 30 minutes, firing 18 winners to just three and allowing the Italian just five points on her serve.
More breaks followed in the first and fifth games of the second set as the American built a 4-1 lead.
Errani, the first Italian woman to reach the US Open semi-finals, saved a match point in the seventh game.
But Williams, the runner-up to Samantha Stosur in a bad-tempered final in 2011, wasn't to be denied, winning the tie with a second serve ace - her ninth of the contest and 50th of the tournament.
Her 64-minute victory was perfectly illustrated by 38 winners to just six by Errani.
AFPTags: sport, tennis, united-states First posted September 08, 2012 07:36:38