Maria Sharapova is back at No. 2 in the WTA rankings after winning the Beijing Premier Mandatory event The China Open last weekend. Sharapova defeated world No.3 Petra Kvitova 6-4, 2-6, 6-3 in the final to win her fourth title of 2014 after titles in Stuttgart, Madrid and at Roland Garros.
The final not only decided who would be the China Open champion for 2014, but also decided who would take Simona Halep’s No. 2 ranking. Sharapova did well to stop Kvitova who was on a roll since winning in Wuhan last week. The Russian took control of the match in the third set, taking a 3-0 lead. And though nerves got the better of her as she had championship points at 5-2, she regrouped to seal the win and the No. 2 WTA ranking when she had chances at 5-3.
The rise to No. 2 is impressive for Sharapova considering that a year ago she was sidelined from the tour with a shoulder injury. She missed from the U.S Open 2013 to Brisbane 2014. Though her comeback was initially problematic- she lost early at the Australian Open and did not make a final until Stuttgart in late April- once she set foot on the clay, her comeback was complete with 3 titles, including the prestigious French Open.
However, more early losses came Sharapova’s way in the grass and U.S Open series swings (she was defeated in the last sixteen of the U.S Open by Caroline Wozniacki), and a shock loss in the round of 32 in Wuhan to qualifier Timea Bacsinszky. That string of losses had fans worried Sharapova’s only chances of titles came on clay. Sharapova did not make them worry long, though. In Beijing, she did not drop a set as she raced through the draw, beating Kaia Kanepi, Elina Svitolina, Carla Suarez-Navarro, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Ana Ivanovic, and then dropping her first set of the event to Kvitova in the final. That run saw her beat 3 slam champions along the way, and get some revenge against Suarez-Navarro who beat her this Summer in Montreal, making her climb back to No. 2 all the more impressive.
Sharapova was last No. 2 on the WTA rankings at the French Open 2013 when, playing as the defending champion, she was beaten by Serena Williams. Now Sharapova is ranked one spot behind Williams on the WTA rankings. Williams holds the top spot with 8645 points while Sharapova has 6680 points. Currently, Williams is sidelined with an injury and her participation at the upcoming WTA Year Ending Championships in Singapore is in doubt. Williams has 2000 points to defend at the event while Sharapova has none.
This presents Sharapova with an opportunity to finish the year as world No. 1, a feat she has never accomplished in her illustrious career. As a former winner of the YEC, and a runner up in 2012, and considering her current hard court form, her chances of reclaiming the No. 1 ranking, which she last held after the 2012 French Open until the Monday after Wimbledon 2012, are high. Sharapova has held the No. 1 ranking for 21 weeks in total, and on five separate occasions.
Commentary by Christian Deverille