INDIAN WELLS, CA, USA - Maria Kirilenko made the biggest semifinal of her career on Wednesday, overcoming injury and a mid-match lapse - and then taking advantage of somewhat of a lapse from Petra Kvitova - to become the first player into the final four of the Premier-level BNP Paribas Open.
The No.13-seeded Kirilenko seemed to have all the luck early on, comfortably holding her first three service games and then breaking for a 4-2 lead; but the No.5-seeded Kvitova caught fire from there, her power game finding its range and bringing her eight of the next 10 games. Kvitova led, 64 42.
"In the first set I was leading 4-2 and then suddenly she started to play unbelievable, a lot of winners," Kirilenko said. "It seems when she's losing she's more relaxed. She can be very dangerous."
Then came another momentum swing: Kirilenko won four games in a row, and it wasn't just the Russian's play that picked up, it was Kvitova's that dipped - it was never more evident than when the Czech was serving to stay in the second set and from 15-0 up hit four straight doubles faults.
Neither player pulled away in the third set but in the end it was Kirilenko who managed to cross the finish line first, one last Kvitova unforced error off the forehand handing her a 46 64 63 victory.
"Finally I reached the semifinals," an elated Kirilenko said afterwards. "I'm really happy I won this match. I had some problems with my knee during the first set but was able to keep fighting and win."
There were some tense moments as Kirilenko was serving for the match at 5-3 in the third set, as she fell behind 0-30 - but again, a sudden swing in fortune brought her four straight points to end it.
"I just said to myself, 'Serve as hard as you can because she's hitting the ball so hard,'" Kirilenko said. "I said to myself I have to win this game, and I'm very happy I finished the match when I did."
Kvitova had the far bigger numbers for the match, hitting 43 winners to 48 unforced errors, but a determined Kirilenko's numbers were just a little bit tidier - 17 winners and 19 unforced errors.
Kirilenko had already been to the semifinals or better at four Premier-level events before, as well as last year's Olympics, but in terms of points weighting and prize money, this is her biggest semifinal. It's also the first time in her career she has defeated two Top 10 players at the same tournament.
"I feel good about beating two Top 10 players in a row, especially since they're two completely different kinds of player," said Kirilenko, who had beaten Agnieszka Radwanska the day before. "For example, the rallies with Agnieszka were so long yesterday, and today they were much shorter - so to adapt to each player and to do it two days in a row, I'm so happy I could do that and beat both of them.
"I feel I can be on this level. Nothing is scary out there now. I can compete with them and win."
The Russian is projected to rise from No.15 in the world to No.13 when the new WTA Rankings come out on Monday, just one spot off the career-high of No.12 she set going into last year's US Open.