She needed six match points but Maria Sharapova closed out Victoria Azarenka in a BNP Paribas Open blockbuster on Monday night. Next up? The defending champion...
WTA Staff

INDIAN WELLS, CA, USA - Maria Sharapova held off a late-match charge to win a third round blockbuster against Victoria Azarenka under the lights at the BNP Paribas Open on Monday night.

Watch highlights, interviews and more video from Indian Wells right here on wtatennis.com!

When the draw came out a week ago it was the match-up everyone was waiting for - both multiple Grand Slam champions, both former No.1s, both BNP Paribas Open winners too. And the rivalry couldn't have been closer, with Azarenka just edging Sharapova in 13 previous meetings, 7-6.

Things couldn't have been closer in the first set, with Sharapova rallying from a break down to take it in an hour and seven minutes, 6-4. Once that was out of the way she went into cruise control, storming out to a 5-1 lead in the second set - but that's when Azarenka's fighting spirit came very alive.

After breaking back to close the gap to 5-2, Azarenka fought off four match points in the next game and held to make it 5-3, and then fought off a fifth match point at 40-15 on the Sharapova serve.

The No.2-seeded Sharapova finished the No.32-seeded Azarenka on match point No.6, 6-4, 6-3.

"I think she played well. I have to give her credit. Obviously she's No.2 in the world for a reason," Azarenka said. "She was just more consistent than I was in the important moments. I created too many opportunities not to take them, and you just cannot afford to do that against a player like Maria."

"It's just great to see her back healthy and playing at a good level again," Sharapova said of the Belarusian. "She had a few comebacks last year, but it seems like she's really back on track now.

"I actually didn't feel like I played my best tennis. But I was competitive. I was there. I feel like I did everything I had to do in order to win the match, which is sometimes the most important thing."

At the very same minute - both matches finished at 9:05pm - No.15 seed Flavia Pennetta was booking her spot across from Sharapova in the fourth round, outdoing No.21 seed Samantha Stosur, 6-4, 6-2.

Pennetta is now on an eight-match winning streak at the BNP Paribas Open, winning six in a row to capture the biggest title of her career here a year ago, and adding two more wins to that total this year.

Sharapova and Pennetta are tied in their head-to-head, 2-2. All four career meetings have gone to three sets, and Pennetta has actually won their last two - they haven't played since 2011, though.