MELBOURNE, Australia – Serena Williams weathered a barrage of big serves and heavy groundstrokes in the first set before beating 19-year-old Madison Keys 7-6 (5), 6-2 to set up an Australian Open final against Maria Sharapova.
Williams dominated the second set of the all-American semifinal, breaking Keys' serve twice. Keys saved seven match points on serve in the penultimate game before Williams closed with an ace on her ninth match point.
"She pushed me really hard the first set ... and I had to really dig deep mentally to get through that," Williams said. "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."
Sharapova beat fellow Russian Ekaterina Makarova 6-3, 6-2 earlier Thursday.
Williams, an 18-time major winner, is back in the final here for the first time since winning her fifth Australian title in 2010. She has a 16-2 record against Sharapova and has won the past 15 meetings.
The second-ranked Sharapova, who reached the Australian Open final for the fourth time, needed 10 minutes to hold in her opening service game, fending off two break points. She responded to the only service break against her in the first set by winning six consecutive games and seizing control of the match from the 10th-seeded Makarova, who had taken only one set off her in five previous matches.
Sharapova won the Australia Open title in 2008 but was comprehensively beaten in the championship matches in 2007 by Williams, and in 2012 by Victoria Azarenka.
She is a five-time major winner.
Facing one of the best servers in the game, top-seeded Novak Djokovic turned in an untouchable performance.
Djokovic beat the eighth-seeded Milos Raonic 7-6 (5), 6-4, 6-2 in the men's quarterfinals, and he did not face a single break point on his serve the entire match.
In the semifinals, Djokovic will face fourth-seeded Stan Wawrinka, who beat Kei Nishikori 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 (6). Sixth-seeded Andy Murray and seventh-seeded Tomas Berdych met in the other semifinal.
In five matches, Djokovic has been broken only once in 73 service games.