Maria Sharapova is once more the Queen of Stuttgart. The Russian won her third consecutive title at the Premier 5 event, coming from behind to beat Ana Ivanovic 3-6, 6-4, 6-1. It was Sharapova’s 13th win in a row at the event and her 30th career title.
For the first set and a half it looked like a new Queen was going to be crowned. Ana Ivanovic came out playing the confident tennis that saw her beat Serena Williams at the Australian Open and win International titles in Auckland and Monterrey. Her serve was on form and she was hitting her forehand with all the accuracy and bite that helped her win Roland Garros and become world no. 1 in 2008.
Leading by a set and 3-1, Ivanovic then let nerves get the better of her while Sharapova thrived on having her back up against the wall, as she so often does. Spurred on by her coach who told her to play like she was competing for a title, Sharapova broke Ivanovic to level the match. She then got another decisive break on her way to taking the second set 6-4.
Ivanovic, meanwhile, was having quite different conversations with her coach. The Serbian became animated in an early third set changeover. Maria’s aggressive ground-strokes were overwhelming her in the rallies and the Russian took a 2-1 lead with a break in the decider. While Ana at least tried to appear calm during play, her game betrayed her as she began to miss shots she had been making in the first couple of sets.
Ivanovic’s serve proved to be her final undoing as double faults crept into her game and she dropped serve again to go down 1-4. Then, trailing 1-5, Ivanovic completely collapsed as Maria’s timing on her return reaped rewards to earn three championship points. Ivanovic managed to save one of them, however, on the second one, the Serbian served out wide to Sharapova’s forehand and the Russian slid into the shot and sent it back for a winner.
It is the first tournament Sharapova has won since the same event last year. Since that victory, Sharapova has dealt with a succession of career crises. First, she suffered some heavy losses on Clay, including at the French Open where she was the defending champion. That loss to her nemesis Serena Williams was all the more hurtful as Clay had become Sharapova’s best surface- no other active player has a better winning percentage on the red stuff than the Russian.
Then Sharapova was upset in the second round of Wimbledon. Taking time out injured, she came back with new coach Jimmy Connors at Cincinnati only to lose to Sloane Stephens in an error prone performance. Sharapova fired Connors after the match and then pulled out of the U.S Open and missed the rest of the year.
Coming back in Brisbane at the start of the season, Sharapova lost to Serena Williams in the semi-finals. A couple of weeks later at the Australian Open, the Russian was knocked out by Dominika Cibulkova. And her season did not improve as more losses followed in Paris, Indian Wells and Miami.
But with her success in Stuttgart, Sharapova looks to have survived another career slump. Whether she can reassert herself as one of tennis’ Queens again as she comes up against the likes of Li Na and Serena Williams in the upcoming Premier tournaments in Madrid and Rome will be much anticipated by tennis fans happy to see one of its stars back in the winner’s circle and keen to see her stay there.
Commentary by Christian Deverille