Updated: January 29, 2015 8:47:27 pm
Andy Murray has reached the Australian Open final for the fourth time, beating Tomas Berdych in a tension-filled semifinal to earn one more shot at a long elusive title.
Serena Williams has five titles from five finals at Melbourne Park, and earned a chance at another one when she advanced to a championship match against Maria Sharapova, who has one Australian title from three trips to the final.
Top-ranked Serena Williams beat 19-year-old Madison Keys 7-6 (5), 6-2 in an all-American semifinal Thursday, after Sharapova beat fellow Russian Ekaterina Makarova in straight sets.
In the night match, sixth-seeded Murray beat No. 7 Berdych 6-7 (6), 6-0, 6-3, 7-5. There was obvious animosity between the players due to a coach switching from the Murray to the Berdych camp.
An aggravated Murray bristled when Berdych spoke a few words to him after the first-set tiebreaker, and yelled profanities throughout the match. TV cameras appeared to show his fiancee, Kim Sears, uttering expletives in support.
Murray, the former U.S. Open and Wimbledon champion, said the emotional reactions were understandable given the hype leading into the match.
Murray has lost three finals at Melbourne Park – to Roger Federer in 2010 and Novak Djokovic in ’11 and ’13. He’ll get a chance to end that streak on Sunday, against either Djokovic or defending champion Stan Wawrinka.
“Obviously losing in the finals is disappointing. But making four finals is a very, very difficult thing to do,” he said. “And, yeah, I’m proud of my record here. I’ll go in with best tactics possible, prepare well – I literally couldn’t have done anything more to put myself in a better position come Sunday.”
Williams has put herself into a prime position. The 18-time Grand Slam champion, who has struggled with a cold for a week, said she’d benefit from a tough workout against Keys, who pounded her with heavy groundstrokes and a big serve for the first set.
“She pushed me really hard the first set … and I had to really dig deep mentally to get through that,” Williams said. “It was a little frustrating. I had like nine or 10 match points and couldn’t close it out.”
Keys, playing in her first Grand Slam semifinal, saved seven match points on serve in a penultimate game that lasted more than 11 minutes. Williams kept her cool, though, wasting one match point on her serve before closing with an ace to reach her 23rd major final. Williams was at her best after dropping her opening service game, finishing the match with just one double-fault, firing 13 aces and defending when she needed to defend.
Keys had control until she was broken in the sixth game.
She held in the 12th game, closing with an ace to force a tiebreaker, but quickly fell behind 4-1 with Serena firing two aces. She saved two set points with aces but had no chance of extending the tiebreaker when Williams hit another unreturnable serve, and started jumping for joy.
Williams led 5-1 lead in the second set when Keys held, denying victory for one more game the woman who inspired her to take up tennis.
“It’s been so long since I’ve even been in a final here,” said the 33-year-old Williams, who will be the oldest woman to play an Australian final in the Open era and will retain top-ranking regardless of the result. “My theory now is to relax and play the match as best as I can.”
Sharapova, who beat No. 10-seeded Makarova 6-3, 6-2, has lost her last 15 matches against Williams. Her only two wins in their 18 career meetings were in 2004.
She won the 2008 Australian title, but was comprehensively outplayed in her two other trips to the final – by Williams in 2007 and by Victoria Azarenka in 2012.
“I think my confidence should be pretty high going into a final of a Grand Slam no matter who I’m facing and whether I’ve had a terrible record, to say the least, against someone,” Sharapova said. “It doesn’t matter. I got there for a reason. I belong in that spot.”
The five-time major winner opened the 2015 season in confident style by winning the Brisbane International title but had a close call in the second round here, having to save match points against No. 150-ranked Russian qualifier Alexandra Panova.
“It’s been a strange road for me to get to the finals, but I’m happy,” Sharapova said. “I felt like I was given a second chance. I just wanted to take my chances.”
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