Maria Sharapova admits she had no confidence coming into the WTA Finals but after two sensational wins over two of the craftiest players on tour, the Russian surely must feel better about her chances in Singapore this week.
Heading into the season finale, Sharapova hadn’t completed a competitive match since Wimbledon as she was struck by a leg problem followed by a forearm injury. Yet the world No4 has defied all expectations as she followed up her three-set win over Agnieszka Radwanska on opening day with a 6-4, 6-4 victory against the tournament top seed Simona Halep.
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Barring a blip towards the end of the second set where she twice failed to serve for the match and allowed Halep to climb from 1-5 down to 4-5, Sharapova was sharp, ferocious on her groundstrokes and even more impressive on her
defence – getting the upper hand in many of the lengthy rallies.
It left a helpless Halep with a 0-6 lifetime record against Sharapova, who now has one foot in the semi-finals with only one scenario out of 16 possibilities seeing her miss out (if Halep beats Radwanska in two and Flavia Pennetta defeats Sharapova in two on Thursday).
In the one-hour 54-minute high-quality affair, Sharapova fired 22 winners and broke five times, taking her 2015 record against top-10 opposition to 7-2.
“I’m quite pleased to be able to beat the No2 player in the world. I think it was, again, a very physical match. I found myself on the defence many times and was able to win a lot of the long points,” said the 28-year-old Sharapova on Tuesday night.
“I think that’s something, when you don’t play for a long time, you hesitate on a little bit. I really felt like I was able to win a lot of them.”
Against Radwanska on day one, Sharapova had experienced a similar second set lapse where she failed to serve for the match at first but the Russian is not reading too much into it.
“I think coming off the match that’s not something that I focused on too much because I did get the job done. That ultimately is what mattered,” she said.
“Yeah, obviously it was great to come back in that at 0-15 in the last game to hit a backhand winner down the line. I’ll think about that this evening. That gave me that extra energy to get that game.”
The match was tight from the start as the pair exchanged early breaks and the set continued on serve until Halep cracked in the 10th game, firing two double faults that cost her dearly.
Sharapova raced to a 3-0 lead in the second set and Halep’s coach Darren Cahill paid his charge a visit, telling her she was giving her opponent to many looks at short balls.
The pep talk did not work and Sharapova broke again for 5-1, as she sent the Romanian from one side of the baseline to the other before going for the kill.
That setback gave Halep a second gear and the 24-year-old, a runner-up in Singapore last year, took three games on the trot, breaking twice.
It was Sharapova’s time to ask for her coach and Sven Groeneveld instructed her to “settle down, remind yourself of what you did to get to 5-1. That competitive spirit has to kick in again.”
His comments did the trick as Sharapova broke the Halep serve to win the match, to the dismay of the rowdy Romanian crowd in the stadium. “He is probably going to want to get a bigger bonus for that one,” Sharapova joked referring to her coach’s on-court visit.
Sharapova faces Pennetta in her final Red Group match tomorrow and she trails the Italian 2-3 head-to-head, with all five of their previous encounters going to three sets.
Sharapova knows it will be a tough showdown but says she isn’t preoccupied by making the semis just yet.
“I've been in very different scenarios in the many times that I've played in the Championships, and I just think at this time, since I'm really not focused on further down the line, if I can get through those three matches healthy, strong, competing, that's the best I can ask from myself,” she added.
Meanwhile, Halep still has a chance to make the semi-finals but was disappointed to suffer yet another defeat against Sharapova.
“She played really well today. She did amazing shots when it was the most important moment in the match. I think I did a good job. I did everything I could. I was fighting until the end. That’s the best thing for me,” said the former French Open runner-up.
“Again, the same story. I was close but I couldn’t win. But I will work. Now I’m more motivated that I have to learn things to beat her.”
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