US Open 2012 Women's Semifinals: Why Maria Sharapova Will Not Make Final

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US Open 2012 Women's Semifinals: Why Maria Sharapova Will Not Make Final
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With the semifinals of the 2012 U.S. Open set and ready to kickoff Friday, all eyes in the tennis world seem focused on a possible Maria Sharapova-Serena Williams matchup in the final.

Two of the world's most recognizable stars, Sharapova and Williams would provide the Flushing Meadows crowd with one of the most hyped women's finals in recent memory. 

Only one tiny problem in that scenario: Sharapova won't be making a trip to the final.

A champion at the 2006 U.S. Open, this season marks the first time since her triumph that the 25-year-old has gotten past the fourth round. In that time, it's been a never-ending sequence of early exits and big-time disappointments. 

And despite a strong run this year, Sharapova needed more than one good break from Mother Nature to advance to the semis. 

Seemingly on her way to another fourth-round ouster at the hands of Nadia Petrova, a rainstorm halted the match with Sharapova down 2-0 in the third set. With Petrova's momentum halted, the third-seeded star came from behind and took the final set 6-3 to advance.

But that wasn't the last time Sharapova needed some momentum-halting rain to come storming down. Trailing 4-0 and looking overwhelmed against Marion Bartoli in the first set, rain again came to the rescue in the quarterfinals. And, once again, Sharapova came back after hiatus firing on all cylinders to win a three-set match. 

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While these matches are certainly a signal of Sharapova's resilience as a player, they're also indicators of weakness.

Expect her string of luck to stop against top-seeded Victoria Azarenka on Friday. 

The contest ostensibly serves as a rematch of the two's Australian Open final from January. And, for those with a short memory, that didn't exactly go well for the 25-year-old Russian. Azarenka made quick work of Sharapova, winning the first set 6-3 before eviscerating her 6-0 in the second set.

The world's current No. 1 player, Azarenka survived a third-set tiebreak against seventh-seed Samantha Stosur to reach the semis.

Nevertheless, it the first time that Azarenka showed any signs of struggle at Flushing Meadows, and the young star is seemingly firing on all cylinders headed into her match versus Sharapova. 

With the first Slam final of the season serving as a massive confidence boost, expect the 23-year-old Belarusian to deliver a repeat performance to advance to the final.

When there, she will likely meet the fourth-seeded Williams, who has 10th-seed Italian Sara Errani in her semifinals matchup.

For casual fans, an Azarenka-Williams final would likely feel anticlimactic.

For true fans of the game, however, a Sharapova loss likely sets up a match between the two best hard court players in the world.

Azarenka may not provide the most marquee name or top-shelf ratings, but she'll make up for it by setting up an amazing U.S. Open final. 

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