Maria Sharapova has reached her first final of 2013, beating Maria Kirilenko 6-4 6-3 in a semi-final slugfest to set up a title showdown with Caroline Wozniacki at Indian Wells.
By reaching the final, Sharapova is projected to rise one spot to No.2 in the world when the new rankings are announced on Monday.
“It’s better than three, right?” said Sharapova, who was more focused on capturing a first title since her 2012 French Open victory gave her a career grand slam.
She is playing in only her third tournament of the year. After withdrawing from Brisbane with a right collarbone injury she reached the semi-finals of the Australian Open and Doha.
The Russian lifted the trophy in the California desert in 2006 and was runner-up last year to Victoria Azarenka.
But in Wozniacki, who outlasted fourth-seeded Angelique Kerber 2-6 6-4 7-5, she’ll be up against an opponent with an equally strong Indian Wells resume: a title in 2011 and a runner-up finish in 2010.
“She’s always a tough opponent,” Sharapova said of Wozniacki. “She’s a grinder. She makes you work really hard on the court and gets a lot of balls back.”
Although Sharapova built a 3-1 lead in the opening set, she thought she could have started even stronger against the 15th-seeded Kirilenko, whose triumph at Pattaya City made her the only semi-finalist to have won a title this year.
“I felt like it could have been up 4-0,” Sharapova said, adding that she wanted as much cushion as she could build against a player who had already beaten third-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska and fifth-seeded Petra Kvitova en route to the semi-finals.
“She’s had a few comebacks in this tournament and really good results,” Sharapova said. “So, yeah, I stepped it up in the second set.”
Five of Sharapova’s six aces came in the second frame, and she didn’t face a break point.
“She likes to play those long points,” Sharapova said. “My job was to be a little more aggressive than usual.”
Wozniacki turned the tables on Kerber, who had won their past three meetings, but she had to work two and a half hours to do it.
The match featured 14 breaks of serve – seven in the third set alone.
“I just took it as it came – I was trying to figure out a way to win,” Wozniacki said. “It doesn’t really matter how.”