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Azarenka, Williams set for rematch

Victoria Azarenka, of Belarus, beat Italy’s Flavia Pennetta to set up a rematch of last year’s U.S. Open final with Serena Williams. (Associated Press)
Victoria Azarenka, of Belarus, beat Italy’s Flavia Pennetta to set up a rematch of last year’s U.S. Open final with Serena Williams. (Associated Press)

Tennis: Defending U.S. Open champion Serena Williams won the first seven games of Friday’s match at Flushing Meadows, then actually fell down a break early in the second set, before quickly regaining it on the way to a 6-0, 6-3 win over fifth-seeded Li Na in the semifinals in New York.

The day’s only drama came in the second-to-last game – an affair that went eight deuces and lasted 13 minutes, 49 seconds. Li saved six match points, but it only delayed the inevitable. Williams dropped two points in the next game, but ended it and let out a long, celebratory scream after a 107 mph service winner.

The victory set up a Sunday rematch of last year’s final against Victoria Azarenka, who beat 83rd-ranked Flavia Pennetta 6-4, 6-2 in the earlier semifinal.

Sunday’s match will mark Williams’ 21st Grand Slam final. She stands one win away from capturing her fifth U.S. Open title and 17th major trophy.

Azarenka lost to Williams in a tense three-setter last year. But just last month, she beat Williams in a third-set tiebreaker in the final of a tune-up tournament in Cincinnati.

Following her singles match, Serena and sister Venus fell 6-4, 6-2 to the Czech team of Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Hradecka in the women’s doubles semifinals.

Hlavackova has a chance of winning two titles at Flushing Meadows this year. Earlier in the day, she and Max Mirnyi teamed for the mixed doubles championship.

European powers close in on Cup berth

Soccer: Spain, Germany and Italy earned wins to move to the brink of qualification for the 2014 World Cup, while Cristiano Ronaldo’s second-half hat trick kept Portugal on course for the tournament in Brazil.

The Netherlands was slowed by a surprising 2-2 draw at Estonia, and England climbed to the top of its group with a 4-0 rout of Moldova.

Spain, vying with France for the top spot in Group I, won 2-0 at Finland. The French drew 0-0 at Georgia and are three points behind in second place with two matches left.

Germany beat Austria 3-0 and Italy defeated Bulgaria 1-0. The Germans and Italians can secure first place in their groups with wins Tuesday. Portugal won 4-2 at Northern Ireland to keep the lead in Group F.

• Honduras, Panama pick up wins: Costa Rica moved into first place in the final round of qualifying in North and Central America and the Caribbean with 14 points, one ahead of the U.S. (4-2-1) with three games remaining. Honduras (3-3-1) is third with 10 points after a shocking 2-1 win at Mexico (1-2-5), which is fourth with eight points. Panama (1-1-4) is another point back after being held to a 0-0 tie at home by last-place Jamaica (0-4-3).

Keselowski takes win in Richmond

Auto racing: Brad Keselowski passed Brian Scott on a restart with 11 laps to go and pulled away after another restart with six laps remaining to win the NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Richmond, Va.

Scott, seeking his first victory in 134 starts in the series, led the first 239 laps before Keselowski made the outside groove work for him, overtaking Scott after some side-by-side battling on his way to his 25th career victory in the series, and the 19th in a row for a Cup Series regular at Richmond.

• Gordon grabs first pole of season: Jeff Gordon will try to race his way into NASCAR’s playoffs from the pole position.

The four-time series champion turned a track-record qualifying lap of 130.599 mph at Richmond International Raceway to win his first pole this season.

Mast tops Montreal leaderboard

Golf: Dick Mast took the first-round lead in the Champions Tour’s Montreal Championship, shooting a 3-under 69 in windy conditions on La Vallee du Richelieu’s difficult Rouville Course.

Kenny Perry opened with a 70 on the tree-lined layout. Bernhard Langer was another stroke back along with Mark Brooks, Mike Reid, Tom Pernice Jr. and David Frost.

Pullman resident Kirk Triplett shot a 77 and is 5 over.

• Owen shoots 66 for Chiquita lead: England’s Greg Owen shot a 6-under 66 to take the second-round lead in the Chiquita Classic in Davidson, N.C., the second tournament in the four-event Tour Finals series.

The 41-year-old Owen, the winner of the European Tour’s 2003 British Masters, had an eagle, seven birdies and three bogeys at River Run. He had an 8-under 136 total.

Spokane native Alex Prugh missed the cut after shooting a 75 for a two-day total 147.

• Bjor, Gallacher share lead at European Masters: Scotland’s Stephen Gallacher shot a 6-under 65 for a share of the lead with Thomas Bjorn after the second round of the European Masters in Sainte-Julie, Quebec.

Bjorn, the 2011 champion from Denmark, shot his second straight 66 to match Gallacher at 10-under 132. Spain’s Miguel Angel Jiminez shot a 68 to join Englishmen Danny Willet, Tommy Fleetwood and Richard Finch and France’s Victor Dubuisson at 9 under.

Bolt closes season with another win

Miscellany: Usain Bolt wrapped up his 2013 track and field season with another win in the 100 meters, clocking 9.80 seconds at the Memorial Van Damme meet in Brussels.

Michael Rodgers of the United States was second in 9.90, a season best for him.

American Justin Gatlin faded to a fourth-place finish in 9.94. • January scores career-high: Briann January (Lewis and Clark) scored a career-high 23 points to help the Indiana Fever hold off the Chicago Sky 82-77 in Rosemont, Ill.

January also had a career-best five 3-pointers.