By Larry Fine
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Serena Williams used her blazing power in a semi-finals win, while Caroline Wozniacki advanced when her opponent was felled by heat illness on Friday to set up an intriguing women's final at the U.S. Open.
Hot and humid conditions hit Flushing Meadows again and China's Peng Shuai fell victim, as she was forced to retire with Wozniacki leading 7-6(1) 4-3 on a steamy day on Arthur Ashe Stadium court.
Williams, the two-times defending champion, came on the center court next and seemed determined to spend as little time as possible in the stifling conditions and succeeded, by trouncing Russian Ekaterina Makarova 6-1 6-3 in 60 minutes.
The 10th-seeded Wozniacki and unseeded Peng waged a much different battle, with the two groundstroke artists trading blows in long, energy-draining rallies.
The match was still very much in doubt with Wozniacki serving at 4-3 and facing break point when Peng suddenly grabbed her thighs and stumbled to the back wall of the center court with what appeared to be severe cramping.
In obvious distress, the 28-year-old doubles specialist was eventually helped off the court to be evaluated by doctors.
A valiant Peng, playing her first career grand slam singles semi-final, refused to quit and returned 11 minutes later.
But after six points Peng curled up in agony on the baseline, and officials called the match and Peng was lifted into a wheelchair and taken from the court to a standing ovation after the abbreviated two hour four minute battle.
"It was really hard to watch for me when I saw her collapse on the court," said Wozniacki. "Tennis is great, but the health is more important. I got word that she's OK now and just getting cooled down, so that's great to hear.
"I'm in the finals, which is obviously great. It's been five years for me since my last one here, so I'm extremely happy to be back there," added the Dane, still looking for her first grand slam win.
World number one Williams took no chances with the searing heat in her rout of 17th seed Makarova to leave a disappointing grand slam season in her rearview mirror.
Williams came out firing, striking the ball with ferocious force and dazzling accuracy and needed only 60 minutes to advance.
After failing to reach the quarter-finals in any of the year's previous three slams, Williams is aiming for her sixth U.S. title and an 18th slam singles crown that would tie her with Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova for fourth on the all-time list.
"It feels so good. I am so happy, you have no idea," Williams, 32, told the Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd after reaching the final.
Williams won 58 points to 33 for left-hander Makarova, who was playing in her first grand slam singles semi-final and had no answers for the brute power of the winner.
Makarova held her first serve in the opening set and lost the next nine games before holding serve to trail 1-4 in the second set.
With Williams serving for the match at 5-2, the Russian broke serve, but the top seed returned the favor in the next game to clinch victory.
The hard-hitting American blasted 24 winners, including five aces, while Makarova managed six.
Williams said she and her friend Wozniacki had hoped for this match-up in the final before the tournament began.
"She obviously wants to win and go for her first grand slam, and I want to win and try to make a little history," said Williams.
"But regardless, I’m going to be happy with the outcome.
"She's such a great person and a great girl. We really looked forward to this since the draw came out, so we really hope we can have a lot of fun and enjoy it."
In the mixed doubles final, Sania Mirza of India and Brazilian Bruno Soares won the U.S. Open title 6-1 2-6 11-9 sealing the match tiebreak on their sixth championship point against American Abigail Spears and Santiago Gonzalez of Mexico.
(additional reporting by Steve Keating; Editing by Gene Cherry)