(Reuters) - Serena Williams overcame a sluggish start to forge past Agnieszka Radwanska 6-4 7-6(1) and move into the final of the BNP Paribas Open on Friday.
The world number one, who will play Victoria Azarenka for the title, was 4-2 down in the opening set and not moving freely in the semi-final at Indian Wells.
However, after the American found her rhythm she claimed four straight games to take control of the set, then continued her run in the second to win the opening three games before her Polish opponent fought back.
Radwanska displayed the kind of tennis that will see her rise to number two in the world rankings on Monday, rallying to win the next three games to get the set back on serve.
The Pole even had a chance to win just her second career set against Williams when she broke the American to lead 6-5, but could not close out on serve.
Williams then snuffed out any hopes Radwanska had of claiming a first victory over the American, winning seven straight points to take the tiebreaker 7-1 and improve to 10-0 in their head-to-head battles.
“I think it was really good for me to have a match like that and I think that’s the reason ‘Aga’ is doing so well, because she never gave up,” Williams told reporters.
“I was up so much in the second and she just came back and was determined more than ever, so it was really good to play well against her tonight.
“I could have played three sets but I figured I should at least do 1,000 percent right now. That’s what I tried to do.”
Williams improved to 23-1 at Indian Wells, where she won in 1999 and 2001, before taking a self-imposed 14-year exile from the event amidst allegations of racial abuse from fans after sister Venus withdrew minutes before their semi-final showdown.
Some 15 years later, she is feeling the love.
“I had a lot of support, I heard a lot of ‘Go Serenas’ and that was kind of cool,” Williams added.
“This year has been great. It feels so great to be supported. It’s been a great comeback here in Indian Wells, so I’m excited about that.”
Williams will play 13th seed and 2012 champion Victoria Azarenka in the final after she beat Czech Republic’s Karolina Pliskova 7-6(1) 1-6 6-2 in the other semi-final.
Despite service troubles, including five double faults in the opening set, and a poor second set, Azarenka found her way past the 18th seed to give herself a chance at a second title of the year and a return to the world’s top 10.
“It definitely was a tough battle,” Azarenka said.
“I’m glad I stayed strong and stayed cool and calm and tried to find a way in the third set to take control.
“I worked so hard this week to put myself in a position to play the best player in the world,” she added about the final.
“That’s exactly where I want to be. I want to go out there and try to play my best tennis, play high quality tennis, do what I do in practice and just have fun.”
Reporting by Ben Everill in Los Angeles; Editing by John O'Brien/Peter Rutherford