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Sharapova Regroups, Beats Wozniacki In SFs

Maria Sharapova hung tough on Thursday and has now won 17 of her last 18 three-setters.

Published March 29, 2012 12:00

Sharapova Regroups, Beats Wozniacki In SFs
Maria Sharapova

MIAMI, FL, USA - It took over two and a half hours, but Maria Sharapova hit through Caroline Wozniacki in the semifinals of the Sony Ericsson Open on Thursday, now a step away from her first title at the Premier-level event.

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The No.2-seeded Sharapova came out firing from both wings, with some particularly perfect crosscourt backhands helping her build a 4-1, 40-30 lead. But a few errors started creeping into her game and it eventually started pouring, as the No.4-seeded Wozniacki reeled off five games in a row to take the first set, 6-4. Sharapova's error total for the set was 22, most of them in that stretch.

"I just kept fighting and just kept playing for every point," Wozniacki said. "Maria started off really well and played aggressively - she was playing some good tennis out there. I was just trying to do my best out there and stay in it."

But when champions are knocked down, they often find a way to rise up.

"After losing that first one, being up and playing well then backing off and her stepping up, I could have easily gone down in the second set," Sharapova said. "But I stepped it up again. I went out there and started being aggressive."

Sharapova raced out to a 4-0 lead in the second set and eventually finished it off, 6-2. Not only did she tidy up her numbers, hitting 15 winners to just 11 unforced errors, but she raised her first service percentage to a whopping 92% and never faced a break point in four service games the entire set.

The pattern continued much of the third set, as Sharapova continued to dominate her service games and broke Wozniacki twice to build a 5-2 lead; Wozniacki, a fellow former World No.1, closed in to 5-4, but Sharapova held one more time to complete a hard-fought two-hour, 34-minute, 46 62 64 victory.

"Caroline likes longer rallies - that's not my game," Sharapova said. "She can make you hit a lot of balls. She can be out there for hours. She's extremely consistent. That's what got her to No.1 in the world for so long. But I'm a very aggressive player. I go for my shots. I don't hesitate. In the first set I stopped doing that a little bit, and it gave her confidence to come back and win that first set, but I'm pleased I got it back right away and managed to win today."

"I tried to do my best, and it just wasn't enough today," Wozniacki said. "I was very close. But this is tennis. One time you win, one time you lose."

Wozniacki did record her best career result at the Sony Ericsson Open however, having never been beyond the quarterfinals prior to this year. "Overall I'm pretty happy with my game. I think this week I've been playing some really good tennis," she said. "I didn't do that today, but I can definitely take some positives from this tournament and bring them with me further this year."

Sharapova is a three-time finalist in Miami, but has never won the title - she was a runner-up in 2005 (to Kim Clijsters), 2006 (to Svetlana Kuznetsova) and last year (to Victoria Azarenka). It is the second-biggest tournament she has never won, after the French Open (where she has been a two-time semifinalist).

"It's always disappointing to lose in the finals, but it takes a lot to get to the final too," Sharapova commented. "I'm happy I've given myself another chance to go out there and try to change that. It would be meaningful to me because I have come to this tournament for so many years, ever since I was a young girl. I've always dreamt of playing on this court, let alone being in the finals.

"This was pretty much the only tournament I came to as a spectator when I was young, 13 or 12, or 11. I drove up from Bradenton with my family to watch Marcelo Rios, Yevgeny Kafelnikov and Monica Seles, We came every year."

Sharapova will play No.5 seed Agnieszka Radwanska or No.7 seed Marion Bartoli in the final. She is 7-1 against Radwanska and 4-0 against Bartoli.

"I haven't faced Bartoli in a while," Sharapova said. "She's been playing well. She's also an aggressive player - she stays down, goes for her shots, stays really low and hits the ball pretty flat. Quite different to my opponent today. Radwanska is extremely solid, gets many balls back, anticipates well.

"Whichever player it is, it's the final, so it's more about performing on your end than really worrying about what's on the other side of the court."

Sharapova is now 17-1 in three-setters since the start of the 2011 season, the only loss coming in the third round of last year's US Open to Flavia Pennetta.

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