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It's set for a Serena Sharapova showdown in the Australian Open final.

The American and Russian won their semi-final ties in Melbourne.

Australian Open Tennis Serena Williams celebrates a point win in her semi-final. Source: AP/Press Association Images

SERENA WILLIAMS WEATHERED a barrage of big serves and heavy groundstrokes early and needed nine match points before beating Madison Keys 7-6 (5), 6-2 to set up an Australian Open final against second-seeded Maria Sharapova.

Top-ranked Williams, bothered by a cold in recent days, dominated the second set of the all-American semifinal, breaking Keys’ serve twice.

The 19-year-old Keys, playing in her first Grand Slam semifinal, saved seven match points on serve in a penultimate game that lasted more than 11 minutes. Williams kept her cool, wasting one match point on her serve before closing with an ace to reach her 23rd major final.

“She pushed me really hard the first set … and I had to really dig deep mentally to get through that,” Williams said, pausing to cough. “It was a little frustrating, I had like nine or 10 match points and couldn’t close it out. That doesn’t happen so much. She played like she didn’t have anything to lose.”

Sharapova, who beat No. 10-seeded Ekaterina Makarova 6-3, 6-2 in an all-Russian semi-final earlier Thursday to reach her fourth Australian Open final, has lost her last 15 head-to-head matches to Williams. Her only two wins in their 18 career meetings were at Wimbledon and the tour-ending championship in 2004.

Australian Open Tennis Sharapova celebrates her victory. Source: Bernat Armangue

“I think my confidence should be pretty high going into a final of a Grand Slam no matter who I’m facing and whether I’ve had a terrible record, to say the least, against someone,” Sharapova said. “It doesn’t matter. I got there for a reason. I belong in that spot. I will do everything I can to get the title.”

Williams, an 18-time major winner, is back in the final here for the first time since winning her fifth Australian title in 2010.

And her semi-final win ensured she will retain the top ranking, regardless of the outcome of the final.

Sharapova won the Australia Open title in 2008 but was comprehensively beaten in the championship matches in 2007, by then unseeded Williams, and in 2012 by Victoria Azarenka.

The five-time major winner opened the 2015 season in confident style by winning the Brisbane International title but had a close call in the second round here, having to save match points against No. 150-ranked Russian qualifier Alexandra Panova. Since then, she hasn’t faced a set point.

“It’s been a strange road for me to get to the finals, but I’m happy,” said Sharapova, who is now into her 10th Grand Slam final. “Came from behind in a few, really behind in one — saving match points. I felt like I was given a second chance. I just wanted to take my chances.”

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Associated Press

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