Aus Open foes on crash course

Saturday, 17 March 2012
Categories: Tennis - International

Sharapova and Azarenka on track for showdown

ANA Ivanovic breezed through in straight sets and Maria Sharapova survived a scare from a fellow Russian as the two former champions reached this morning's Indian Wells semi-finals.

Three-time grand slam winner Sharapova, the second seed, battled to a 3-6 7-5 6-2 win over Maria Kirilenko in the quarter-finals of the Californian tournament.

Sharapova plays Ivanovic this morning (AEDT), who eased past a stricken Marion Bartoli 6-3 6-4 in a rematch of their 2011 quarter-final.

Sharapova had cruised through her first three matches without dropping a set but quickly ran into trouble against Kirilenko, who had won eight of her nine three-set matches this year.

"I tried to keep my head up today even though I wasn't playing my best," said Sharapova, the 2006 champion.

"Towards the end, I started to play better and move better."

Sharapova needed three hours and five minutes to dispatch Kirilenko in the first meeting between the two since the opening round of the 2010 Australian Open.

Kirilenko is getting a reputation as the WTA Tour's ironwoman. This was her third straight three-setter and the second time in the tournament she played a match lasting more than three hours.

But despite breaking the former world No.1 twice in winning the opening set in 43 minutes, Kirilenko was unable to conquer her more-fancied compatriot.

Ivanovic was delighted to avenge her semi-final loss last year to Bartoli with a straight-sets victory this time around.

"It was a tough match. I served well," the Serb said.

"We both started well but the eighth game of the second set was important. I just tried to stay low and make her run."

Bartoli was trailing 2-1 in the second set when she asked for the doctor to come onto the court.

She was in discomfort for the remainder of the match, bending over and grabbing her stomach between serves. Several players pulled out or retired from matches in Indian Wells complaining of a stomach virus.

"When I went on the court, I was very dizzy and it was very hard for me to catch my breath," Bartoli said.

"I started to not feel well since last night. When I woke up this morning, I knew I was not in great shape. But I gave it a try on the court.

"The more the match was going on, the worse it was getting for me and I was feeling extremely dizzy on the court and I don't see very clearly. I got the virus that a lot of players got here."

Ivanovic has made it to at least the Indian Wells quarter-finals on five occasions, winning the title four years ago.

Bartoli's exit means last year's winner Caroline Wozniacki and runner-up are out of the women's draw.

Meanwhile,  French Open champion Li Na, playing in her first event since pulling out of the Paris Indoor Open, was knocked out by Angelique Kerber, 6-4 6-2.

It was the Chinese's first loss to the German in four career meetings, but all three previous contests were in 2010.

"A lot can change in two years," said Li, the eighth seed.

"My serve didn't work. The three times I played her before I was getting points on my serve but today was different."

Kerber next faces world No.1 Victoria Azarenka, who dismantled Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland 6-0 6-2.

Azarenka extended her season-long win streak to 21 matches as she raced into the semis.

The 30-year-old Li started her year by reaching the final in Sydney and made it to the fourth round of the Australian Open before pulling out of the Paris tournament last month with a back injury.

Li held serve just once in the final set as the 24-year-old Kerber won the final six games of their night match on centre court.

Kerber won 65 per cent of her first serve points and saved seven of nine break points in the 83-minute match.

"I am happy I am in the semis now," Kerber said.

"I just tried to move very good and hit the balls deep in the court and play aggressive."

Kerber has shown that she doesn't give up easily, surviving two match points in her opener against Sloane Stephens and three match points in her third-round victory over another American, Christina McHale.

Kerber, who is seeded 18th, is part of a wave of young Germans who have emerged on the Tour and are steadily climbing up the rankings.

If Azarenka can win her semi against Kerber she will have 22 consecutive match victories.

You would have to go back to Martina Hingis (37 wins) in 1997 to find someone with a longer win streak to start the season.

"I am really impressed with the way I played," Azarenka said.

"I didn't expect to win that way."

The 22-year-old from Belarus is chasing her first Indian Wells title after already having captured the Australian Open this year and the No.1 ranking with it.

AFP
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