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Sharapova - Wozniacki to collide in blockbuster Indian Wells Final

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World No.2 Maria Sharapova edged out 13th seed Maria Kirilenko in an all Russian semi-final 6-4, 6-3 to move into the final for the second straight year at the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells. Joining her in the championship match will be a resurgent Caroline Wozniacki, who fought back from a set down to upset 4th seed Angelique Kerber 2-6, 6-4, 7-5 setting up a battle of former champions.

Sharapova was just better on court than her compatriot Maria Kirilenko. Her serve was consistent and accurate throughout and the 13th seed could not force a single break. Moreover, the 2nd seed won 83% of points on her first serve. This proved to be difference in the opening set as the former world no.1 saved 6 break points and got the crucial early break for a 2-1 lead and carried on from there to eventually serve out the set 6-4.

The second set continued on serve till 3-3 after which the no.2 seed stepped it up a notch and won the next three games, breaking Kirilenko twice, to carve out a tight victory in an hour and forty two minutes.

"She's someone who has had a few comebacks in this tournament and really good results. I think this is her best tournament yet," said Sharapova. "I stepped it up in the second set. The first set was a little shady; the second set was much better... Today I was happy that I did a few things much better than I had to. I really had to step it up today."

The 3rd seed Angelique Kerber got off to a great start in her semi-final and she quickly wrapped up the opening set 6-2. She carried forward this momentum to the second set and raced to a 2-0 lead. At this point, the Dane changed her strategy and began lofting moonballs, much to the spectator’s amusement, to take the pace off and this shifted the momentum completely and the German, who relies mainly on her power game began to lose concentration.

Wozniacki made a comeback and leveled the set at 3-3. The 7th game of the second set was truly remarkable and it lasted more than 17 minutes and saw the 8th seed save 7 break points in rallies that took the players all over the court before the Dane was finally able to hold on and get the 4-3 lead. The hold seemed to give the 2011 Indian Wells champion some much needed confidence and a couple of games later she broke Kerber to take second set 6-4 to tie the match at 1-1.

In stark contrast to the opening set, Wozniacki began the decider in top form and raced to a 4-1 lead which she stretched to 5-3 but failed to serve out the match as Kerber launched a fightback of her own to tie things up at 5-5. The Dane could have crumbled at this stage, but held her nerve and won the next two games to complete the victory in a match that lasted over two and a half hours. It could not have been a closer match as the point difference was as close as it could be with Wozniacki winning 101 points to the German’s 100.

"I think the court suits me very well. I like that it goes fast through the air but it's a pretty slow court," Wozniacki said. "So I feel like I get what I want out of the ball; but at the same time, I feel like I get to a lot of balls. "I feel like I have been running and grinding and playing really well this week. I have reached a lot of balls and felt comfortable”

"It was a tough match from the beginning," said Kerber. "I started very well, but she [found] her game in the second set. And it was not easy for me, but I think it was a close and good match. At the end I think she won the important points."

The women’s final will see Maria Sharapova, who moves up a spot in the WTA rankings as a result of the victory, take on Caroline Wozniacki for the 8th time. Both are former world no.1 players and both are former champions here. Sharapova leads her opponent 6-2 in head to head but Wozniacki has won their only encounter at Indian Wells en route to the championship in 2011.

Sharapova said of her Danish opponent,  "She's always a tough opponent. She's a grinder. She makes you work really hard on the court and gets a lot of balls back."

If Sharapova wins she will have the record off winning a title each year for ten straight season. It will also be her first title of the year and give her confidence for the rest of the season. Wozniacki meanwhile has had a dismal start to the year with early round exits in Brisbane and Sydney but has gotten better as the year has progressed and she has a chance to really make a firm comeback to her best if she manages to win. A lot is at stake for both players and this sets the foundation for a final to look forward to.

WTA Singles - Semifinals

[2] M Sharapova (RUS) d. [13] M Kirilenko (RUS) 64 63

[8] C Wozniacki (DEN) d. [4] A Kerber (GER) 26 64 75