Sharapova Hangs On, Completes Final Four
Published March 15, 2012 12:00
INDIAN WELLS, CA, USA - Showing the pure will to win that has taken her to three Grand Slam titles and No.1 in the world, Maria Sharapova just refused to lose to Maria Kirilenko at Indian Wells on Thursday, coming back from 63 20 down to beat her friend and countrywoman in a three-hour-plus marathon.
The two Russians had split their four previous meetings and this one was just another example of how evenly matched they are, with the No.2-seeded Sharapova dictating play with her big ground game and No.20 seed Kirilenko using speed, different angles and spins, as well as some very soft touch at the net. Variety was seemingly winning against power early on, as Kirilenko built that aforementioned 63 20 lead - but Sharapova wasn't even close to done.
"She started very well, but it was a poor start from my end," Sharapova said. "She controlled most of the points and I was on the defense a lot, which created so many opportunities for her, and she gained a lot of confidence. When she took the break in the second set I was still just trying to find my rhythm. It was a little bit of everything, movement and playing-wise, but I started feeling better.
"Towards the end I really got my by groove back."
Sharapova toughed out a one-hour, 34-minute middle set then was in complete cruise control in the third, eventually sealing a hard-fought 36 75 62 victory.
"I knew I could play better," Sharapova said of the mid-match turnaround. "If I felt like everything was going well from my end and she was winning, I would have felt like, okay, she's just too good. But I really felt I could improve on so many things in the match, and little by little I started doing those things better.
"It's not really about how you start - it's about how you finish."
The three-hour, five-minute thriller actually finished on a Kirilenko double fault, followed by a graciously subdued celebration from Sharapova, which she was asked about in her press conference. "It was a double fault on match point, so it's not like I'm going to do a jumping jack or cartwheel out there," she said.
Sharapova leads Ivanovic in their head-to-head series, 3-2, although the pair hasn't played since the 2008 Australian Open final over four years ago.
"Has it been that long? It's actually pretty amazing, I didn't think it was that long," Ivanovic said. "She definitely still has the same style, really aggressive and goes for that first serve, and she obviously has a big serve - I think that has improved as well. It's going to be tough, but I want to focus on what I'm doing."
"We haven't played for a while, and we're both at very different stages in our careers," Sharapova said. "I enjoy playing her. She has a big game and big strokes. When she's on, she's really firing from all ends of the court. I'll try to have an eye on that. It's also really good to see her playing so well."
Ivanovic was asked about her memories of that last meeting in the Australian Open final, which Sharapova ended up winning in straight sets, 75 63.
"Oh my God, I remember how much I cried afterwards," Ivanovic said. "There was one shot in particular that still hurts me so much, a silly dropshot forehand. I was like, 'Why? Seriously, why?' I think it was at 4-all, 30-all. I was doing so well until that. Sometimes I tried to be too fancy when there was really no need for it. I remember I cried all the way home on the plane about it! Have you ever seen me do the dropshot again on my forehand? No. I tried to learn."