Maria Sharapova overcame some tricky wind conditions to advance to her fourth Australian Open final with a 6-3 6-2 victory over Russian compatriot Ekaterina Makarova on Thursday.
The 2008 champion, whose last Melbourne Park final came three years ago, will now meet the winner of the all-American clash between top seed Serena Williams and Madison Keys later on Rod Laver Arena.
“It’s so special,” the second seed said in a courtside interview.
“When you start off the tournament, you take it a match at the time and it was strange road, but I’m here and I’m pleased to be in the final.
“Obviously, Serena will be coming in as the favourite in that match but Madison has been playing some of the best tennis of her career.”
Sharapova, who saved two match points in her second round clash with Alexandra Panova and has barely been troubled since, used her experience and powerful ground strokes to dominate an opponent playing in her first Australian Open semi-final.
Makarova, who also reached the last four at the 2014 U.S. Open, had not dropped a set all tournament and her easy win over third seed Simona Halep in the quarter-finals gave her plenty of confidence going into the contest despite her 5-0 losing record against Sharapova.
She began strongly as Sharapova had trouble with her ball toss in the swirling wind, serving two double faults, and held two break points in an opening game that lasted 10 minutes before the five-time grand slam champion recovered.
The 27-year-old Sharapova immediately broke Makarova and then held to establish a 3-0 lead with the 10th seed yelling at herself as they went to the change of ends.
Makarova managed to break in the seventh game as Sharapova again had trouble with her ball toss before the second seed put her foot down and won eight of the next nine points to clinch the set in 48 minutes.
Sharapova refused to let up in the second set, while Makarova’s serve faltered and forehand misfired as she failed to put any depth on her shots, allowing her compatriot to dictate the points.
The 26-year-old earned two more break points in the sixth game and finally forced Sharapova on the defensive but her forehand again let her down when the court was open and she lost yet another opportunity to get back into the match.
Sharapova then wrapped it with a strong service game to clinch her place in the final in 87 minutes.