Kuznetsova finishes off Sharapova's perfect start, will face Jankovic in semis

Updated: March 22, 2008, 12:51 AM ET
Reuters

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. -- Maria Sharapova's perfect start to the year came to a shuddering halt when she lost 6-3 5-7 6-2 to fellow Russian Svetlana Kuznetsova in the Pacific Life Open semifinals on Friday.

Australian Open champion Sharapova, who had won her first 18 matches of the season, was outplayed in a fluctuating match lasting two hours, 19 minutes.

Kuznetsova will face top-seeded Ana Ivanovic in Sunday's final, the Serb having beaten compatriot Jelena Jankovic 7-6, 6-3 later on Friday.

[+] EnlargeSvetlana Kuznetsova
ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty ImagesSvetlana Kuznetsova beat Maria Sharapova 6-3, 5-7, 6-2 on Friday to give Sharapova her first loss after an 18-0 start to the season.

"There were a couple of important points that could have changed the match and she ended up winning them," Sharapova, 20, told reporters. "I think from that she gained confidence and kind of steamrolled after that in the third set.

"She's a very tough, tough player. She's not No. 2 or 3 in the world for nothing. I give her a lot of respect for her consistency, what she's able to do on the court, how strong she is and how many balls she gets back."

World No. 3 Kuznetsova, who lost to Slovakia's Daniela Hantuchova in last year's final at Indian Wells Tennis Garden, was delighted to beat Sharapova for the first time since Miami in 2006.

"It feels great," the 22-year-old said. "I don't think Maria played like always she can play. Neither did I. But I think it was a very good, interesting third set.

"The first set was so-so; the second better and in the third we both got our game. It was a good match and I feel great winning."

Kuznetsova made the most of a scrappy display by her opponent to sweep through the first set in 46 minutes, Sharapova double-faulting five times and making 20 unforced errors.

After service breaks were traded in the second and seventh games of the second set, world No. 5 Sharapova leveled the match when Kuznetsova double-faulted at 30-40 to be broken in the 12th game.

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However, the 2004 U.S. Open champion piled on the pressure in the final set, breaking Sharapova in the first game and again in the fifth with a superb forehand winner down the line.

Kuznetsova calmly booked her place in the final by serving out to love in the eighth game, a protracted last rally ending when Sharapova's speculative lop landed long.

It was her fourth victory over Sharapova in eight career meetings.

Ivanovic won a tight opening set against Jankovic by sweeping through the tiebreak 7-3 and broke her opponent in the third and ninth games of the second to wrap up victory in one hour, 25 minutes.

The 20-year-old from Belgrade, who lost to Sharapova in this year's Australian Open final, has now beaten Jankovic five times in six career meetings.

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