Maria Sharapova rifled a forehand winner on match point to beat Maria Kirilenko in the second semifinal of the BNP Paribas Open. The former No.1 will now move from No.3 back to No.2.
WTA Staff

INDIAN WELLS, CA, USA - With one last forehand winner Maria Sharapova powered her way into the final of the BNP Paribas Open on Friday night, and that isn't all - she will go from No.3 to No.2 now.

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Sharapova was going up against some serious momentum in Maria Kirilenko - her countrywoman was not only playing the biggest semifinal of her career, she had also defeated two Top 10 players in a tournament for the very first time, taking out Agnieszka Radwanska and Petra Kvitova previously.

But the Sharapova wall of power was too much, producing 29 winners to just 17 unforced errors; Kirilenko, meanwhile, had 15 winners to 22 unforced, and couldn't convert any of her six break points. On match point the two had a long, powerful exchange, at the end of which Sharapova rifled a huge forehand winner that smacked the line - the No.2 seed put away the No.13 seed in straights, 64 63.

"She's someone who has had a few comebacks in this tournament so I had to step it up in the second set," Sharapova explained. "The first set was a little bit shady; the second set was much better.

"She's always a tough opponent. She's a grinder - she makes you work really hard on the court and gets a lot of balls back, and has a lot of variety too - I certainly don't want to give her time or any of those opportunities, because she's a really good player. And I think this was her best tournament yet."

Sharapova was told in her press conference about passing Victoria Azarenka for the No.2 ranking now. "Am I?" she replied after learning the news. "That's great - yeah, it's nice. It's better than No.3, right?"

Kirilenko was disappointed but still happy with her tournament. "I can only say the positive stuff for this tournament - I'm happy the way I'm playing and it means I'm moving in the right direction," she said. "There are no players playing badly right now, so you really have to be there every match."

Next up for Sharapova is a very intriguing match with Caroline Wozniacki - both former World No.1s and both former champions at Indian Wells, Sharapova winning it in 2006 and Wozniacki in 2011.

Wozniacki edged Angelique Kerber in the first semifinal, coming back from 62 20 down to record a 26 64 75 victory (read more here). In that match there were some long exchanges with high balls mixed in.

Sharapova was asked about those high balls. "I saw some of those points," she said. "They were really high and they all kept going in - I was like, 'That's a really good effort. I don't think I can do that.'

"Caroline is dangerous when she has the opportunities to open up the court and runs you side to side."

"Maria is a great competitor and fights for every point," Wozniacki said of the Russian. "She plays very aggressively and tries to take every ball on the rise and plays very flat - it's going to be very tough."

Sharapova leads Wozniacki in their head-to-head, 4-2, and has won their last two meetings - but in their only career meeting at Indian Wells, Wozniacki was the winner, and by a long way too: 61 62.