It has been a long road back but Maria Sharapova will finally return to the world's top 10 in next week's updated world rankings. The 23-year-old Russian, who has been struggling to recover following a shoulder injury, will move up to No 9 in the list whatever the result of her final in Miami today against Victoria Azarenka, who will be attempting to regain the title she won two years ago.
Sharapova, who earned her place in her third Miami final with a 3-6, 6-0, 6-2 victory over Andrea Petkovic, was last in the world's top 10 during the 2009 Australian Open, which came in the middle of a nine-month break she took from singles play as she underwent surgery. Her recovery has not been easy – this will be her first final for seven months – though she gave an indication of a return to form with a run to the semi-finals in Indian Wells a fortnight ago.
After losing the opening set, Sharapova upped her game while Petkovic, who was troubled by a rib injury, faded fast. The German, who beat Sharapova at the Australian Open, had overcome Caroline Wozniacki and Jelena Jankovic in earlier rounds.
"I feel like I'm finding my form," Sharapova said afterwards. "I really felt with many matches and staying healthy that I would feel better and my fitness would start coming back to me – and my tennis as well."
Azarenka, the world No 8, brushed aside Vera Zvonareva 6-0, 6-3 in her semi-final. Two years ago the 21-year-old from Belarus made her big breakthrough in the same tournament when she beat Serena Williams in the final.
Sharapova and Azarenka have both beaten each other twice. Sharapova lost in straight sets when they met in Stanford last summer in their last encounter. "She plays really aggressive and swings really hard from both sides," Sharapova said. "She's a great returner. It'll be tough. I lost to her the last time we played in Stanford, so I'll look to change a few things around if I play her."
In last night's men's semi-finals Novak Djokovic was attempting to retain his unbeaten record this year when he faced Mardy Fish, while Roger Federer was playing Rafael Nadal in the first match between the two men on American soil for six years. The men's final will be held tomorrow.