By Julian Linden
Russia’s Maria Sharapova and Ana Ivanovic of Serbia won their semi-finals at the Brisbane International on Friday to set up a highly-anticipated showdown in the lead-up to this month’s Australian Open.
Sharapova beat the talented Ukrainian Elina Svitolina 6-1 6-3 to reach the final without dropping a set while Ivanovic battled her way to a 7-6(2) 6-4 victory over American Varvara Lepchenko.
Sharapova beat Ivanovic in the 2008 Australian Open final and both women are in devastating form heading towards the first grand slam of the season, starting in Melbourne on Jan. 19.
Sharapova has dropped just nine games in her three matches to get to the final and showed no mercy against Svitolina, a rising star who won the 2010 junior French Open, as she reached her 56th WTA final.
“I expected her to play well. I think I did a lot of things good to try to take away her game,” Sharapova said.
“In the end, it became a little bit more difficult. She became more free, went for her shots a little bit, a few unforced errors from my end, but overall I’m happy I stuck with it and finished the last point.”
Ivanovic, who came from a set down to win her previous match, once again had to dig deep before seeing off Lepchenko after nearly two hours on the Pat Rafter Arena.
Lepchenko twice served for the opening set but Ivanovic broke back both times then won the tiebreaker.
In the second set, Ivanovic charged to a 5-1 lead before she got the wobbles, allowing Lepchenko to reel off the next three games before she finally sealed the win on her seventh match point.
“Definitely, (my) heart was racing a little bit, especially that it was really becoming a battle,” Ivanovic said.
“Even though I was 5-1 up, still felt like a battle all the way through.”
Ivanovic will be chasing her 16th WTA career title and her fifth in 12 months after she began her latest resurgence up the world rankings.
Currently ranked seventh, the 27-year-old is looming as one of the favourites for the Australian Open.
A former world number one who won her only grand slam title at the 2008 French Open, Ivanovic credits her return to form to finally learning how to cope with fame.
“I struggled to be in the spotlight. For me, this is something that took time to get used to because I was very shy,” she said.
“It was really overwhelming for me and all the pressures. I always play tennis as a game and not all these pressures and expectations.
“I felt like I had no time to go to movies with friends, you know, and this is what every person needs. So I really feel since maybe year and a half I found this balance.”