Stephens, Sharapova Come Up Short

Stephens, Sharapova Come Up Short

Five thoughts on the women's semifinals at the Australian Open, where Victoria Azarenka (6-1, 6-4 over Sloane Stephens) nd Li Na (6-2, 6-2 over Maria Sharapova) advanced to Saturday's final. ...

1. Azarenka's antics. First, a bit of credit. Placed in a potentially dangerous situation -- facing a young opponent, fat with confidence and attention, playing with house money -- Azarenka smothered Stephens, never letting her take control of the match despite a late comeback. She smacked Stephens' second serve as if were propped on a tee. She ran Stephens ragged.

She not only neutralized whatever game plan Stephens brought but also killed her spirit. She won the first set in barely half an hour. (And Azarenka has won her last 60 matches when she's taken the first set.) By late in the second, it looked to be the kind of performance that a champion turns in, playing with authority and draining all the fight from a younger opponent.

Then at 5-3, Azarenka was overwhelmed by the occasion. "I almost did the choke of the year," she said.

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