Maria Sharapova’s chances of knocking Serena Williams from the top of the WTA rankings have taken a blow after she was defeated by Caroline Wozniacki in her opening match at the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore. The top seed lost 7-6 (4), 6-7 (5), 6-2 to Wozniacki, seeded eighth, in 3 hours 13 minutes.
Sharapova was just under 500 points behind Serena Williams in the WTA rankings coming into the tournament. Considering Williams has 1500 points to defend at the event (she won all her round robin matches and the title last year), and had a left knee injury a couple of weeks ago, Williams’ chances at the event were not as high as they were this time last year. Sharapova had a genuine shot at riding the confidence her recent Beijing Premier Mandatory tournament win must have given her all the way to the WTA Finals title and her sixth appearance at the top of the WTA rankings.
However, just as the 2004 WTA Finals champion discovered in their U.S Open last sixteen clash back in the Summer, Wozniacki is a tricky customer for the Russian’s big hitting go-for-broke game. Wozniacki’s movement, defense, and her own attacking moments all add up to be problematic for the Russian who can get frustrated at having to hit one more ball and consequently send balls flying out the court.
Sharapova, who led her head to head with Wozniacki 5-3 pre-match, has to be on her best game to defeat Wozniacki, just as she was when she beat her for the last time in the 2013 Indian Wells final 6-2, 6-2. But the Russian’s barrage of winners were not enough to edge Wozniacki in a close first set in which Wozniacki’s serving made the difference.
That serve continued to be a weapon as Wozniacki broke the Russian, held her own serve and served for the match at 5-3. It then faltered as Sharapova, who made a habit at the French Open this year of coming back from a set down to win, fought Wozniacki all the way to a second set tiebreaker and edged it 7-5.
Wozniacki struck back at the start of the third set, breaking the world No. 2 and leading 2-0, but the Russian fought back to level at 2-2. With more twists and turns expected, Wozniacki defied those expectations as she wrestled control of the match from Sharapova all the way to taking the final set 6-2, losing only five more points, as her offense and defense overcame the Russian’s all out offensive game.
Sharapova now has to win her remaining two round robin matches and reach the final or win the tournament if she wants to become world No. 1 for the first time since July 8th 2012. She will also have to hope Williams falters as each time the world No. 1 wins a match, the task of becoming No. 1 gets tougher for Sharapova. Matters would get especially tough if both Sharapova and Williams make the final. Sharapova is 2-15 versus Williams in their head to head and has not beaten her since the WTA Finals 2004 in which she beat an injured Williams in three sets. Sharapova might need, if her defeat today is anything to go by, Williams to be in a similarly injured condition if she aims to beat Williams and reclaim the No. 1 this Sunday.
Commentary by Christian Deverille