Maria Sharapova has battled her way to her first Madrid Premier WTA Title. Last year’s runner-up had to work hard as she fought off world no.5 Simona Halep 1-6, 6-2, 6-3.
Sharapova had her work cut out as Halep broke her in the opening game and raced into a 4-0 lead. Sharapova held onto her serve and got herself onto the scoreboard, but it was too little to late as far as the first set was concerned. Halep was the winner of the 2013 WTA Most improved player award and showed why as at 4-1 she held serve and then broke an error prone Sharapova again to take the set 6-1.
The loss of the first set was enough to wake Sharapova up. Just as she dug deep against Ana Ivanovic in last week’s Stuttgart final, Sharapova used all her experience and clay court expertise to rally back and take the second set 6-2.
In the third set, the momentum was all Sharapova’s. The Russian showed just why she is the active WTA player with the best win-loss percentage on red Clay. She had to play her best, too, against the 22-year-old Romanian to take a tight third set 6-3.
The match was Sharapova’s 11th win in a row, the first time she has won 11 matches in a row since 2012. That year she put together a 15 match winning streak. The eleventh win of that streak came in the semi-finals of Roland Garros. The twelfth saw her hold the trophy as she completed the career grand slam.
Winning her second clay court title in a row after a year-long title drought will give Sharapova the confidence she seemed to lack earlier this season as she goes into Rome and Roland Garros. Sharapova lost last year’s Madrid and Roland Garros finals to nemesis Serena Williams. She should also be somewhat motivated by Williams’ withdrawal with injury from Madrid. In this type of form, the only player capable of beating Sharapova is Serena Williams and if she is not fit enough to defend her French Open title, it is hard to see anyone else but Sharapova holding the trophy in a few weeks time in the French capital.
Sharapova will also have her work made easier when it comes to any second French Open title ambitions she has as she rises to seventh in the WTA rankings. That move protects her from meeting Serena Williams before the last eight at Roland Garros. That round has not been kind to Williams, too. She has gone out in the quarters no less than six times and in years when she has been the favorite. Most famously she was beaten at that stage in 2003 by Henin, 2009 to Kuznetsova and 2010 to Stosur.
If Sharapova can win in Rome, where she would gain even more ranking points as she had to withdraw in the quarters last season, her confidence would be sky-high. And if she could catch a rusty, nervous Serena Williams in the last eight, she would grab her first win since 2004 over the world no.1 and put together a run even greater than her Clay court run of 2012.
Commentary by Christian Deverille