INDIAN WELLS, CA, USA - Maria Sharapova took the first strike early and often against Sara Errani in the quarterfinals of the BNP Paribas Open on Wednesday night, and while she wasn't successful each and every time, she kept with the strategy and won - and now she's in the semis of the Premier event.
The No.2-seeded Sharapova had all kinds of trouble in a marathon 82-minute first set - down 5-3, set point against her in that game, another one down 6-5 in the tie-break - but she squeaked it out and from there was in total command, beating the No.6-seeded Errani in a very tight two-setter, 76(6) 62.
Sharapova was the clear aggressor with 45 winners to 46 unforced, while Errani had nine winners to 15 unforced. But Sharapova's ratios - exactly five times the winners and roughly three times the errors - were a good balance, and she beat Errani in straight sets for the third time in three career meetings.
The match wrapped up just after midnight. "Good morning, buenos días everybody!" Sharapova said in her on-court interview. "This definitely wasn't my best match of the tournament - I started quite slowly today. But I'm happy I've given myself another opportunity to be in the semifinals here, one of the toughest stages of one of the toughest tournaments for us. I hope to go further again this year."
Sharapova was asked afterwards whether it was tough waiting so long to take the court. "I've been on the tour so many years now so I know what to do in those situations," she said. "It's really about keeping yourself entertained - a good book or some good music to listen to. It could be two or three hours later than you're supposed to be starting. That's tennis; that's just how it goes sometimes.
"And there was a match to be played after us too, so it's not just us who had to deal with it."
"Maria played extremely well today - it's really a great result for her," Sharapova commented. "It's never easy to play against a compatriot but one of us will go through to the final, which is one good thing.
"We always have difficult matches against each other."
Sharapova leads Kirilenko in their head-to-head, 4-2, but two of Sharapova's wins were three-setters, including her 36 75 62 win in the quarterfinals here at Indian Wells last year, where Kirilenko actually led 63 20 before Sharapova rallied to win a 94-minute second set and cruised from there.
"It's not really about how you start - it's about how you finish," Sharapova said after that win.
"Last time we played was at the Olympics, which I won in two sets, but she always plays really well in this tournament," the Russian added. "We had a really tough quarterfinal match at this tournament last year, so I'm expecting another tough one. I'll prepare and just go out on the court and do my best."