US Open 2012: Stellar Years for Serena, Azarenka on Collision Course

Dan KelleyCorrespondent IISeptember 7, 2012

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Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka may not be the top two ranked players in women's tennis, but in 2012, they arguably had the two most important seasons of any players in the sport.

To be fair, Azarenka does hold the current No. 1 ranking, and she has been on top of the game in all but four weeks since the 2012 Australian Open. Serena rose from 12th at the Australian Open to fourth at the beginning of the U.S. Open.

Azarenka and Williams have been two of tennis' major success stories in 2012. Appropriately, they will meet in the U.S. Open final in a match that will determine not only a champion of the tournament, but an unofficial champion of the year 2012.

Each won one of the three Grand Slam tournaments this year. Azarenka took home the season's first Grand Slam trophy when she won nine of the final 10 service games against Maria Sharapova to win the Australian Open with an empathic 6-3, 6-0 victory.

Serena would make an even more dramatic statement at Wimbledon, tallying a record 24 aces against Azarenka in a 6-3, 7-6 (6) semifinal victory to move to the final against Agnieszka Radwanska. Serena needed three sets to finish off Radwanska, but she was so dominant in the first and third set that the 6-1, 5-7, 6-2 victory seemed like a two-set rout.

In the process, Serena amassed 102 aces in the tournament, more than anyone in the women's draw—or the men's.

In between Azarenka's and Serena's Grand Slam titles, Maria Sharapova won the only other major of the year at the French Open, where Serena was shockingly eliminated in the first round and Azarenka in the fourth.

The 2012 London Olympics presented an extra stage for the competitors, and they did not disappoint. Azarenka and Serena went head-to-head in the semifinals, where Serena put on another dominant performance to win 6-1, 6-2. She went on to defeat Sharapova 6-0, 6-1 in the gold-medal match, while Azarenka added to her own 2012 resume by winning Belarus' first Olympic medal in tennis, a bronze.

For Azarenka, 2012 has been her year at the forefront of women's tennis. She has held the No. 1 ranking for most of the calendar year and took home her first Grand Slam title.

For Serena, 2012 can be described as nothing less than a comeback.

After her abysmal first-round exit at the French Open, thoughts of the American icon returning to the top of the sport seemed woefully optimistic. Since then, no athlete in the sport has looked stronger or more motivated than Serena.

Entering the U.S. Open final against Azarenka, she is yet to drop a set in the entire tournament. Despite turning 31 later this month, she looks as athletically dominant as ever.

Both players have a 2012 Grand Slam title to their names. Both have a 2012 Olympic medal. Serena holds the coveted gold, while Azarenka can counter with the season-long success, evidenced by her No. 1 ranking.

Azarenka has burst onto the scene of women's tennis; Serena has returned to it.

So who had the better 2012? Call it a draw.

With the two athletes going head-to-head for one final major Saturday night, fans will get to see the two most successful and exciting athletes in women's tennis compete for one final Grand Slam trophy this year.

Both women have had remarkable seasons in 2012. Whoever comes out on top Saturday night, though, will be just a little more remarkable.