NEW YORK — Obviously, it was some of the loudest tennis ever played. There was more sustained shrieking than at a Justin Bieber concert. Yet in enduring the late summer heat, humidity and a swirling wind, Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova also gave New York the sort of gritty and competitive match that would do both of them proud.
Never had Sharapova been more demonstrative, wearing her emotions for the world to see. The bella Russian wanted this one badly. Azarenka, always looking for a fight, found one Friday. The Belarusian found herself a set and break down before she hit her rhythm in an afternoon of marathon swings.
Sharapova had been 12-0 in three-setters in 2012. She had won 78 consecutive matches when she took the first set. Yet when this match finally had ended, when, oh, a third of the Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd was left with some kind of hearing problem, it was Azarenka who would emerge perfect [12-0] in three-setters this year.
"All heart," Azarenka said after she outlasted Sharapova, 3-6, 6-2, 6-4 to advance to her first U.S. Open final, against Serena Williams.
Azarenka, who shrieks and moans with every racket stroke, won the Australian Open in January. Sharapova, who also shrieks and moans with every racket stroke, completed a career Grand Slam with a victory in Paris in June. Both want to be No. 1 in the world. With the victory, Azarenka will remain No. 1 regardless of what happens Saturday.
Yet here's the thing. None of that precious perspiration from Sharapova ultimately matters. None of the fight Azarenka demonstrated — nor her postmatch victory dance — ultimately matters either.
Serena is too good. Serena is too great.
She won't say it. Yet the evidence is growing she's the greatest of them all.
Azarenka may have broken out her slightly off-kilter dance — OK, her Minsk Macarena is better than Mark Madsen's and Elaine Benes' moves — after victories over Sam Stosur and Sharapova. Yet after Williams dusted overmatched Sara Errani, 6-1, 6-2, in 64 minutes early Friday evening, the only pressing question in my mind is: Does Serena repeat her gold-medal Crip walk or does she has a more elaborate choreography in store?
"I would have been a rock star if I didn't play tennis," Williams said. "I don't have a good voice. But I'm great on stage."
Early during the CBS broadcast, Mary Carillo quoted Serena this way: "I'm getting older soon. It's not going to be my turn anymore."
The quote was from 2002. Serena swept through the U.S. Open without losing a set that year. She did the same in 2008. And now she is doing the same in 2012, having lost only 19 games in six matches. You want a telling stat? Serena's entire match was 10 minutes shorter than the Azarenka-Sharapova third set. It was almost embarrassing to watch Williams overpower Errani, 38-6, in winners. It was like taking candy from a bambina.
Serena will be strong and rested against Azarenka. She will be fresh. Is Azarenka, who needed three sets to win both in the quarters and semis, capable of beating Serena right now?
"She's No. 1 in the world," said Sharapova, who doesn't particularly like Azarenka. "There's no reason why she shouldn't have a chance."
Serena does lose her focus at times. Her mind seems to wander. When she's not right, she can be beaten. Yet as John McEnroe observed, she's not only right — Serena is the fittest he has seen her, and she already has the greatest serve in the history of the women's game. Kim Clijsters recently came right out and called her the greatest women's player ever.
This is Azarenka's time. She's No. 1. She's at the peak of her game. Yet this is Serena's world. And she's 9-1 against Azarenka, beating her the past seven times, including 6-3, 7-6 (6) in the Wimbledon semis and 6-1, 6-2 at the Olympics. The one match Azarenka won was 2009 on the hard court in Miami.
"Azarenka is a strong player," Errani said. "I think Serena is another level."
"You definitely know that it's going to be a big adversity there on the court against you," Azarenka said. "I've got to do something different. The other times, it didn't work for me."
Serena and Venus' dad, Richard, has been wacky at times. He has said stuff that makes you scratch your head. But he was spot-on all those years ago when he predicated Venus would be a great champion and Serena would be even better.
"This is the most important tournament that Serena would ever win," Richard told reporters at Wimbledon. "Serena didn't think she'd ever play tennis again."
It started with an 18-stitch gash on her foot when she stepped on broken glass in 2010 and got much worse with a pulmonary embolism. She battled back to U.S. Open final last year, losing in the finals to Stosur, and Friday said it was the one time she lost in a championship that she wasn't horribly down. She was buoyed by her fight back. A lot of us — include me — criticized Serena and Venus for not playing enough week-to-week when they were younger. The argument was that they owed the game more than they were given. Well, Serena is soon to be 31, and she's still itching to play.
There is, of course, also the matter of her decorum. In 2009, she threatened a lineswoman over a foot fault. And last year she got into it with a chair umpire who penalized her for celebrating before a point had ended. No problems this year.
"Hey, it's not done yet," Williams said. "My goal this year is not to get into any fights. I'm a really good sportsman, I think. I'm really nice. I talk to everyone in the locker room."
At the French Open, after losing for the first time in the first round of a major, she also is on a 25-1 roll on the court. She is basking in an incredibly dominant summer, a golden summer with a Wimbledon title, an Olympic gold medal and is looking Saturday at a summer hat trick.
"It would be kind of cool," Serena said. "It would be awesome."
It also would be her 15th Grand Slam singles title, one more than Pete Sampras, two fewer than Roger Federer, three fewer than Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova. Williams has pointed to Margaret Court  and Steffi Graf , who have the most major victories, as women who should be called the best.
"I can't sit here and say I'm the best ever. I'm not. I'm not worthy of that title," Williams said earlier in the tournament."
On Friday night, she went out of her way to call Azarenka "the most consistent and best player this year." Pressed on her humility, she backtracked, "I said this year. I always believe I'm the best."
Why not? It's Serena's summer. And it's her world.