Victoria Azarenka powers past Venus, Safarova awaits in Qatar final
Former world number One Victoria Azarenka continued her comeback from injury by powering past Venus Williams in three sets on Friday in Doha to make the Qatar Open final.
Azarenka, now ranked 48th in the world since losing most of 2014 to a foot injury, stormed back from losing the first set to brush Williams aside 2-6, 6-2, 6-4, in a thrilling semi-final watched by, among others, former England football captain David Beckham.
Twice winner of the tournament, wildcard entrant Azarenka will play the Czech Republic`s Lucie Safarova in Saturday`s final.
The omens seem good for Azarenka who has won the previous six encounters between the pair.
The Belarussian hinted at a return to her best on Friday with her trademark thunderous baseline shots ultimately proving too much even for someone of Williams`s pedigree.
She also did enough to hold off a late charge by Williams in the deciding set.
But she did it the hard way.
Following a tame first set where there was no hint of what was to follow, Azarenka, 25, won seven consecutive games in the second and third sets to blow Williams away.
It was an astonishing transformation.
Williams coped with the cool and windy conditions much better earlier on and looked likely to secure her first ever final place in Qatar.
There was little hint of the trouble ahead for the American as she eased through the first set, pulling Azarenka around the court with a series of classy backhand and forehand winners.
Barely managing to hang on in the opening stages of the second set, Azarenka however transformed the match from 3-2 up in the second set, taking the consecutive matches which not only secured that set but put her in control in the decider.
Azarenka, who was world number one as recently as 2012, was back to some of her best powerhouse tennis which saw her not only secure two Grand Slams but also two Open titles in Doha.
She has previously won in Qatar in 2012 and 2103.
Last year she withdrew because of injury.
On Friday night, her confidence returned to such an extent that she was even able to head off a late charge by Williams who came back from 5-1 down to 5-4 in the final set.
Azarenka served the game out to 30 and celebrated in front of a sizeable crowd, many of whom had been rooting for her.
Afterwards she admitted she couldn`t cope with Williams in the first set.
"She was kicking my butt left and right, I didn`t know what to do," she said immediately after the match.
Azarenka will meet Wimbledon semi-finalist Safarova in Saturday`s final who breezed through her semi-final with Carla Suarez Navarro in straight sets.
Left-hander Safarova won 6-3, 6-2 in a semi-final which she totally dominated and lasted little over an hour.
In a one-sided encounter, the Czech broke the Spaniard`s serve in the second game of the first set and was rarely troubled by her opponent.
She dropped her serve just once, in the seventh game of the first set, but immediately broke back to restore her advantage and served out for the set straight after.
A demoralised Suarez Navarro, who had knocked out number one seed Petra Kvitova in the quarter-finals, had few answers to the Czech`s powerful groundstrokes and ended up losing tamely.