Indian Wells, California: Maria Sharapova reached her first final of 2013 on Friday, beating Maria Kirilenko 6-4, 6-3 in a semi-final slugfest to set up a title showdown with Caroline Wozniacki at Indian Wells.
By reaching the final, Sharapova is projected to rise one spot to No. 2 in the world when the new rankings are announced on Monday.
“It’s better than three, right?” said Sharapova, who was more focused on capturing a first title since her 2012 French Open victory gave her a career Grand Slam.
She is playing in only her third tournament of the year. After withdrawing from Brisbane with a right collarbone injury she reached the semi-finals at the Australian Open and Doha.
The Russian lifted the trophy in the California desert in 2006 and was runner-up last year to Victoria Azarenka.
But in Wozniacki, who outlasted fourth-seeded Angelique Kerber 2-6, 6-4, 7-5, she’ll be up against an opponent with an equally strong Indian Wells resume: a title in 2011 and a runner-up finish in 2010.
“She’s always a tough opponent,” Sharapova said of Wozniacki. “She’s a grinder. She makes you work really hard on the court and gets a lot of balls back.”
Although Sharapova built a 3-1 lead in the opening set, she thought she could have started even stronger against the 15th-seeded Kirilenko, whose triumph at Pattaya City made her the only semi-finalist to have won a title this year.
“I felt like it could have been up 4-0,” Sharapova said, adding that she wanted as much cushion as she could build against a player who had already beaten third-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska and fifth-seeded Petra Kvitova en route to the semi-finals.
“She’s had a few comebacks in this tournament and really good results,” Sharapova said. “So, yeah, I stepped it up in the second set.”
Five of Sharapova’s six aces came in the second frame, and she didn’t face a break point.
“She likes to play those long points,” Sharapova said. “My job was to be a little more aggressive than usual.”
Wozniacki turned the tables on Kerber, who had won their last three meetings, but she had to work two and a half hours to do it.
The match featured 14 breaks of serve - seven in the third set alone.
“I just took it as it came - I was trying to figure out a way to win,” Wozniacki said. “It doesn’t really matter how.”