Indian Wells: Sharapova d. Kirilenko

by: Richard Pagliaro March 15, 2012

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MariaFormer doubles partners Maria Sharapova and Maria Kirilenko squared off with a trip to the Indian Wells semifinals on the line. Sharapova lost the battle between the lines for a set and a half, but ultimately won the war between the ears. In a streaky match that featured audacious winners and wild misses, shrieks and stare downs and momentum shifts and mood swings, Sharapova showed her power of perseverance in rallying for a 3-6, 7-5, 6-2 victory that spanned three hours and five minutes.

It was a match that had its share of bizarre moments, Kirilenko won eight of the first 11 games, only to see Sharapova storm back in stringing together six straight to seize a stranglehold in the third set.

Kirilenko can hit bigger than her slender frame suggests. Boldly standing toe-to-toe with her stronger opponent, she struck shots with conviction, cracking successive forehand winners in surging out to a 3-0 first-set lead. On the ensuing changeover, Thomas Hogstedt, Sharapova's coach, was unimpressed, bluntly telling his charge: "She was lucky on those two forehands. She's gonna choke." While Kirilenko is prone to complicating matters—see her three hour, two minute third-round win and two hour, 41-minute fourth-round triumph—she's typically a stubborn competitor, as evidenced by the 8-1 record in three-setters she carried into today's match.

The 20th-seeded Kirilenko served 74 percent and delivered four aces to collect the 43-minute opening set and built a 2-0 second-set lead. But her first-serve percentage began to slip, and Sharapova, who slapped 18 errors in the first set, began to step it up and control the center of the court. The strong-willed Russian turned the match around in fighting off six break points to earn a hard-fought hold for 3-2, closing the game with a clenched fist and defiant stare.

Serving at 4-5, Kirilenko audibly tapped her Yonex racquet to the court three times in the middle of a baseline exchange. Chair umpire Marija Cicak immediately called Kirilenko for hindrance and awarded the point to Sharapova, prompting a brief protest.

"If you hit it once, it's okay," Cicak told Kirilenko. "You hit it four times. I'm not allowing this hindrance." Kirilenko responded with a forehand winner down the line, punctuated by a fist pump and stare in the chair's direction. She saved two set points in the game, and when Sharapova sent a wild forehand wide of the sideline, a fired-up Kirilenko screamed "Come on!", drawing even at 5-5. Sharapova snuffed out the resurgence, winning eight of the next 10 points to level the match.

Kirilenko, who took treatment for a right ankle injury in the second set, embarked on a bathroom break that lasted so long that Sharapova had time to take practice serves. When play resumed, Sharapova was empowered and Kirilenko came unhinged. The match ended meekly on a Kirilenko double fault.

The second seed will face Ana Ivanovic in a semifinal showdown of former Indian Wells champions. Sharapova has won three of their prior five meetings, including a 7-5, 6-3 win in the 2008 Australian Open final, which was the last time they met.

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