* Azarenka beats Kerber to reach Indian Wells final
* Will play Sharapova, who wins when Ivanovic retires hurt
(Adds Sharapova, Ivanovic quotes)
By Mark Lamport-Stokes
INDIAN WELLS, California, March 16 World
number one Victoria Azarenka of Belarus charged into the final
of the Indian Wells WTA tournament with a 6-4 6-3 victory over
Germany's Angelique Kerber on Friday.
Both players struggled to hold serve in breezy conditions on
the showpiece stadium court but Azarenka sealed the win by
breaking her 18th-seeded opponent in the ninth game of the
second set when the German hit a forehand long.
Australian Open champion Azarenka will face second-seeded
Maria Sharapova in Sunday's final after 2008 winner Ana Ivanovic
of Serbia retired hurt from the second semi-final because of an
injured left hip while trailing the Russian 6-4, 0-1.
The title showdown at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden will be
a repeat of the Australian Open final in January when Azarenka
won her first grand slam title with a crushing 6-3 6-0 victory
"I can't play, I can't push," a tearful Ivanovic told the
chair umpire before withdrawing from her match in the last four.
Ivanovic had taken a medical time-out after the ninth game
of the first set before returning to the court for two more
games, and exiting with Sharapova 30-0 up on her serve.
"After the treatment, it was just getting worse and worse
rapidly," the 24-year-old Serb later told reporters. "We taped
it and then I tried to continue, but at the end, I couldn't even
"I'm very disappointed ... I really felt like I have been
playing the best tennis probably played in a very, very long
Sharapova, champion here in 2006, lost serve in the second
game of the match but she broke back in the third and seventh
games before clinching the set in just over an hour when
Ivanovic hit a forehand long.
"It was unfortunate that it had to end this way," the
Russian former world number one said of Ivanovic's injury. "I
thought towards the end of the second set we started playing
really good, high quality tennis."
Sharapova was delighted, though, to advance after a
relatively short match before taking on the game's hottest
player in the final.
"She (Azarenka) is definitely the one to beat right now,
someone who playing with a lot of confidence and all the
momentum in the world," the Russian smiled. "I'd love to get my
revenge from Australia and play much better, as well."
Top seed Azarenka improved her record for this year to 22-0
with her victory over left-hander Kerber.
"I am so excited, it's the first time for me to be in the
final here," a beaming Azarenka said in a courtside interview.
"It's a great event and I love playing here."
Asked how tricky the swirling breezes had been, Azarenka
replied: "It was a little bit difficult, especially from one
side but it made it more interesting, a lot more adversity and
challenge for both of us.
"Overall I played pretty good on the return. I really was
impressed by the way Angelique was playing. She really pushed me
to raise my level and really dig to win that match."
The pony-tailed Belarusian moved into outright second place
for the best start to a WTA Tour season since 1997.
Swiss Martina Hingis leads the way with 37 consecutive
victories to launch her 1997 campaign with Azarenka next best
and American Serena Williams in third, with 21 in 2003.
Playing Kerber for the first time, Azarenka traded early
service breaks with the German before again breaking her
opponent in the ninth to take the opening set 6-4 in 48 minutes.
Kerber, who upset eighth seed Li Na of China 6-4 6-2 in the
quarter-finals, was then broken four more times in an erratic
second set as the Belarusian wrapped up the win.
(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by Alastair Himmer)