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 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 over Sharapova
"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 an injury 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.
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.
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 at the Indian Well Tennis Garden, 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.
"My serve was not the best today and she returns unbelievable," said the 24-year-old German, who won her first WTA title in Paris last month.
"If I was a little bit defensive and just put the ball in the court, she made the winners. She's a great player and she plays very good in these moments."