INDIAN WELLS, CA, USA - It may not have been the ideal ending, but Maria Sharapova returned to the final of the BNP Paribas Open on Friday evening, winning the first set of her semifinal match against Ana Ivanovic before her fellow former World No.1 had to retire from the match due to a left hip injury.
The No.2-seeded Sharapova toughed out a 64-minute first set, losing the first two games but eventually taking it, 6-4; Ivanovic, seeded No.15, won the first game of the second set but after two more points had to call it a day.
"I started to feel it in the middle of the first set," Ivanovic said. "It just got gradually worse and worse. I found it hard to return at 3-4, I couldn't push off and get up. And then on my serve the next game I couldn't jump off my leg. I started to feel a lot of pain through my glute and couldn't load on my backhand side.
"After the treatment it was getting worse and worse rapidly. We taped it and I tried to continue, but I couldn't even stand there on my return."
What was played was of the highest quality however, both players putting their world class power games on display in front of the center court fans.
"I'm very disappointed, because I felt like I was playing really good tennis and it was becoming a great match," Ivanovic commented. "We were pushing each other and both had been playing well from the first moment of the match."
"It was unfortunate it had to end this way - towards the end of the second set we started playing really good, high quality tennis," Sharapova said. "I obviously would have loved to finish the match the right way, but I'm happy after such a long quarterfinal match yesterday I got a little bit of a shorter one today."
Ivanovic's victims en route to the semis included Top 10 players Caroline Wozniacki and Marion Bartoli, the first time she beat two Top 10 players at the same tournament since nearly two years ago, at Rome in May 2010.
Sharapova is now through to her second BNP Paribas Open final, having won the title in 2006; she will play No.1 seed and first-time Indian Wells finalist Victoria Azarenka, who is 22-0 so far this year, including a win over Sharapova in the Australian Open final - and a dominant one as well, 63 60.
"She's definitely the one to beat right now, someone that's playing with a lot of confidence and all the momentum in the world," Sharapova said of Azarenka. "I'd love to get my revenge from Australia and play much better, as well. In our previous meetings we had really tough matches and I hope the quality of tennis will be good and hopefully I can change a few things around this time.
"It's nice to have that opportunity again and be in the finals here too."
Azarenka leads Sharapova in their head-to-head series, 4-3. All four of Azarenka's wins have come in straight sets; Sharapova's three wins include two three-setters and one retirement (where Azarenka won the first set).