Azarenka sets up Serena showdown

Brisbane (Australia)—Victoria Azarenka overcame fellow seed Karolina Pliskova in three sets to reach the BNP Paribas Open final.
Azarenka – the 13th seed and 2012 champion – was pushed but dug deep to win 7-6 (7-1) 1-6 6-2 at Indian Wells.
Pliskova saved eight of 11 break points and tallied 17 aces but it was not enough as Azarenka earned a showdown with world number one Serena Williams – her second WTA final of the year after winning the Brisbane International in January. Things did not go Azarenka’s way early and her racquet bore the brunt of it, with the agitated Belarusian losing her cool on more than one occasion. Azarenka, though, did keep her composure to fend off two set points and hold serve.
That was the turning point for Azarenka, who then broke the Czech 18th seed straight after to level the match at 5-5.
Dogged and determined, Azarenka reeled off a third consecutive game before closing out the set. It was a completely different story in the second set as Pliskova steamrolled her way back into the contest. Pliskova hit six aces, saved all four break points she faced and broke Azarenka to love twice in a one-side set.
Azarenka, however, was not in a giving mood in the deciding set, dropping just four points on serve as she wrapped up the match in two hours, six minutes.
MeanwhileNovak Djokovic set up a mouthwatering Indian Wells semi-final showdown with nine-time French Open champion Rafael Nadal, who the world number one Serb considers his biggest rival on the ATP Tour.
Both Nadal and Djokovic eased through their Indian Wells quarter-final contests in straight sets Friday and will now square off in a match worthy of a title clash. “It is going to be a game of cat and mouse,” Djokovic said. “I enjoy the rivalry against Rafa. It is probably the most exciting rivalry I have had in my career.”
World number five Nadal survived an early assault to defeat Japan’s Kei Nishikori 6-4, 6-3 in the joint ATP and WTA Tour hardcourt tournament in the California desert. The Nadal-Nishikori match kicked off a star-studded pair of Indian Wells quarter-finals on Friday featuring four of the world’s top 10 players.
Djokovic defeated ninth ranked Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, of France, 7-6 (7/2), 7-6 (7/2). “I beat a top 10 player and that is important for my confidence,” said Nadal, who is hoping to put to bed speculation that his career is on a downward spiral.
He has won 14 Grand Slam titles but none in the past 18 months. “Tomorrow is another opportunity for me to play against another top player.” The swashbuckling Spaniard is looking for another stamp in his championship passport, having already won Indian Wells in 2007, 2009 and 2013, while Djokovic is going for a record fifth crown. “I feel I am strong mentally and I have the right energy,” Nadal said. “I am able to fight for every ball and I now believe in myself the whole match.”
Nadal had just two aces but he took care of his serve Friday by winning 62 percent of his first-serve points. He broke Nishikori four times. He closed out the 93-minute match with a forehand down the line that Nishikori stumbled after but came nowhere near to getting a racquet on.—AFP

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