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By Richard Pagliaro | Thursday, March 16, 2017

 
Kristina Mladenovic

Kristina Mladenovic reeled off the final five games defeating Caroline Wozniacki, 3-6, 7-6 (4), 6-2, to reach her first Indian Wells semifinal and crack the Top 20 for the first time.

Photo credit: Christopher Levy

Squinting into the sun, Kristina Mladenovic seemed to be searching in vain for cracks in Caroline Wozniacki’s defense as she fell into a 1-5 hole.

On a searing day, Mladenovic shook off a sloppy start and a stubborn opponent to surge into her first BNP Paribas Open semifinal.

Watch: BNP Paribas Open Live Blog

Cracking her forehand with ambition and applying her net skills and drop shot effectively, Mladenovic reeled off five straight games finishing a 3-6, 7-6 (4), 6-2 victory over the 2011 champion, who took an injury timeout for treatment of a right ankle injury while up 2-1 in the decider.

It was a milestone victory for Mladenovic, who will crack the Top 20 for the first time in her career when the new WTA rankings are released on Monday. Mladenovic will surpass former doubles partner and good friend Caroline Garcia as the new French No. 1.

"Obviously it feels great," Mladenovic told ESPN2's Pam Shriver after beating Wozniacki for the first time in four meetings. "We played three times in the past and I never beat Caroline. Obviously, she's a former world No. 1. Our last match was last year and I lost in three sets. It was also that kind of battle almost three hours of fight.

"She’s such a great fighter. It's very hard to make a winner. I’m so pleased to be in the semifinals here."




The 26th-ranked Mladenovic will play either 12th-seeded Venus Williams or 14th-seeded Elena Vesnina for a spot in the final.

Withstanding double break point, Wozniacki whipped an ace down the T holding in the opening game. Wozniacki rapped a forehand pass down the line holding in the third game then went to work on return.

In an abysmal game, Mladenovic couldn’t find the court poking a drop shot into the middle of the net to gift the break and a 3-1 lead to the Dane.

Zapping a short-angled inside-out forehand, Mladenovic earned her seventh break point of the set, but couldn’t stand up to a stinging backhand. Wozniacki warded off four break points in extending her lead to 4-1.

The forehand is Mladenovic’s weapon, but she couldn’t consistently find the center of the strings and suffered shanks. Dragging a forehand wide, the Frenchwoman dropped serve again.

Still, Mladenovic kept earning break points only to clank out some more mis-hits. Two more unsightly returns erased break points. By then, Wozniacki had denied nine break points.

Persistence paid off on her 10th break point, Mladenovic drew Wozniacki forward with a drop shot then bumped a backhand into the open court breaking for 2-5.




Serving for the set again, Wozniacki stung a pair of backhand winners down the line closing a 43-minute set in which she saved nine of 10 break points and converted both break points she earned.

The 26th-ranked Mladenovic began finding her range early in the second set. She wrapped a forehand crosscourt pass to break back then cruised through confirmation at love for 2-1.

Reigning Roland Garros doubles champion Mladenovic showed smooth transition skills and some subtlety with a fine backhand drop shot winner stamping her second straight love hold for 3-2.

An angled slice backhand pass followed by another pass down the line gave Mladenovic her second break for 4-2. Skimming an inside-out forehand winner, Wozniacki broke back in the seventh game. Working over Wozniacki’s forehand wing, Mladenovic hit a series of penetrating crosscourt forehands breaking again.

Serving for the set, Mladenovic dissolved in a two-double fault game, including a double at 30-all, gifting the fourth consecutive break.

Staring into the sun, Wozniacki spun a forehand swing volley down the line at 30-all in the 12th game. That strike helped her hold to force the tie break.

A surprise serve-and-volley and sharp slider serve earned Mladenovic three set points at 6-3.




On the second set point, Wozniacki steered her trusty two-hander wide as Mladenovic took a set from the former No. 1 for just the second time in four meetings.

Holding for 2-1 in the decider, Wozniacki took a seven-time injury time-out to have her right ankle taped.

Two games later, Mladenovic hammered returns of sub-80 mph serves earning the first break of the final set for 3-2.




Increasingly bullied by her opponent’s forehand and lacking the crisp court coverage she exhibited at the outset, Wozniacki slammed her yellow-and-black Babolat to the court in frustration after a netted error. Slashing a forehand winner crosscourt, Mladenovic held for 4-2 with a rousing uppercut.

Pouncing on another second serve, Mladenovic stepped inside the baseline and launched a heavy forehand winner down the line breaking again for 5-2. Mladenovic hit her fifth ace for match point and closed in two hours, 33 minutes. 


 

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