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Busted Racquet

Sharapova advances to Australian Open final, will face Azarenka with No. 1 at stake

Chris Chase
Busted Racquet

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Maria Sharapova will have a chance to win her fourth Grand Slam title and regain the No. 1 ranking on Saturday night when she faces Victoria Azarenka in the Australian Open women's final.

The 24-year-old Russian avenged her Wimbledon finals loss to Petra Kvitova on Thursday afternoon in Melbourne, winning their tense Aussie Open semifinal, 6-2, 3-6, 6-4.

She'll face Azarenka in the final. The 22-year-old from Belarus came back from a set down to beat Kim Clijsters in the other semifinal.

It will be the first major final for the world No. 3. Sharapova will be playing in her sixth.

The battle between tennis' two most vocal players will have additional stakes. The winner will replace Caroline Wozniacki atop next week's WTA rankings. Sharapova will be looking to earn her fifth stint at No. 1, while Azarenka is seeking her first.

Theirs will be the first Grand Slam with the top ranking on the line since the 2009 Australian Open final.

A few inches may have spared Sharapova's tournament fate. At 4-4 in the third set, she was down 0-30 on her serve when a Kvitova forehand hit the baseline and skidded past for a winner. For an instant, it appeared Sharapova would be facing a 0-40 deficit and the prospect of having to break Kvitova to extend the match. But she challenged the call and the call was overruled, forcing a replay of the point.

Kvitova was visibly deflated by the change. In an instant, the triple break point turned into a tenuous 30-15 lead. She never recovered, losing eight of the next nine points and hitting seven unforced errors.

Oddsmakers installed Azarenka as a slight favorite in the final.

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