It's not often we react to a retirement, but I'm making an exception for tonight's second women's semifinal. Because for nearly a set, we saw the WTA's answer to the awe-inspiring, high-profile, you've-got-to-see-this-even-if-you-don't-watch-tennis play put forth by the majordomos of the ATP for well over a year. And it didn't even involve the tour's top-ranked, unbeaten star, Victoria Azarenka, who earlier in the evening beat Angelique Kerber to win her 22nd match of 2012 and reach the Indian Wells final.
What Azarenka saw, if she was done with her media commitments and watching this match, was some of the most fearless hitting of this entire tournament. Ivanovic brought out the same artillery she used against Caroline Wozniacki, only this time, her opponent actually replied in kind. Sharapova swung like she looks: Serious. And not just with her forehand, making for rallies that left the winner in doubt until a winner—often an authoritative one—was struck. There were breaks of serve, as you might expect from these two, but the sky-high quality of play made up for it. Their first match since the 2008 Australian Open final was unquestionably worth the wait.
But it was a mirage, fitting for a venue located in the city of Palm Desert. Trailing 5-4, Ivanovic took a break nearly eight minutes in length for, at the time, unknown reasons. But anyone who thought this could turn into another three-hour match for Sharapova was sorely mistaken just two games later, after the Russian served out the opening set. A hip injury had affected Ivanovic, so much so that her coach, Nigel Sears, all but told her to let this one go. The Serb soldiered out for one more game, which she won, but the pain was too much to bear; a short session with the trainer confirmed the inevitable. Ivanovic told Sharapova it was over, and it's still more than four years since the two have played a completed match.
Where this leaves us is with a rematch of another Australian Open final, the 2012 edition, featuring No. 2 Sharapova and No. 1 Azarenka. Incredibly, this is the first time since 2008 that the WTA's top two players will meet in a tournament final. With any luck, it will be better than their duel Down Under, a 6-3, 6-0 Azarenka drubbing. Both players had relatively simple semifinals, and will have a full day of rest tomorrow. We know what Azarenka can bring to the court, and Sharapova showed the kind of tennis necessary to derail the white-hot Belarusian tonight.