María José Martínez Sánchez continued to revive the game that took her all the way to the Rome title earlier this year, easing past Dominika Cibulkova and into the semis of the $1,000,000 Kremlin Cup.
Martínez Sánchez won her third and biggest career title in Rome this year, subsequently breaking into the Top 20 for the first time. She began struggling with a right knee injury and missed two months in the summer - including having to pull out of Wimbledon - and didn't win back-to-back matches since June.
Until now. As the No.8 seed at the Kremlin Cup, a No.28-ranked Martínez Sánchez won her first two matches in three sets and on Friday afternoon rolled past her quarterfinal opponent, Cibulkova, 6-2 6-3, breaking serve three times in each set and closing the match out in an hour and 24 minutes.
Next up for Martínez Sánchez is No.2 seed Victoria Azarenka, who beat Alisa Kleybanova, 61 63. The match was hardly the rout the scoreline implied however, Kleybanova holding game point in six of the 12 games Azarenka won.
"Every game was tight," Kleybanova said. "Vika was playing great. She qualified for Doha this week and the pressure wasn't there anymore. She enjoyed the match and played freely. I did as much as I could but it wasn't easy to stay at my best the whole match. I made some mistakes on important points."
"I stuck to my game plan today. I played aggressively and didn't let her take control," Azarenka said. "I like the momentum I have right now. My next match will be a huge motivator as I have never beaten María José before."
Martínez Sánchez leads Azarenka in their head-to-head, 2-0, both of those matches coming this year, although one came via retirement.
The other semifinal will see an all-Russian duel between No.6 seed Maria Kirilenko and Vera Dushevina. Kirilenko needed just 65 minutes to beat qualifier Zarina Diyas, 6-1 6-2, while Dushevina saved four set points in the second set tie-break to beat another Russian, Anna Chakvetadze, 6-3 7-6(7).
Dushevina leads Kirilenko in their head-to-head, 3-1, although in their last meeting it was Kirilenko who prevailed in straight sets.
Azarenka and Kirilenko later took the court again for their doubles but lost to No.1 seeds Gisela Dulko and Flavia Pennetta, 7-6(3) 6-4. They face No.3 seeds Martínez Sánchez and Sara Errani in the doubles final.