Sharapova Prevails in Doha; Perfect Season Continues
DOHA, Qatar - There were two winning streaks on the line for Maria Sharapova on Sunday and despite a valiant second set challenge from Vera Zvonareva she emerged with them both intact, capturing the Tier I Qatar Open title with an emphatic 61 26 60 title victory over her countrywoman.
Despite her No.4 seeding, Sharapova was probably the favorite this past week, having been 9-0 this season coming in - including seven straight set wins en route to her third Grand Slam title at the Australian Open - and unbeaten in Doha previously, having claimed the title when it was a Tier II stop in 2005. Apart from an opening match hiccup, where she lost her first set of the year to qualifier Galina Voskoboeva before cruising 6-1 in the third, she had the same dominant form throughout her march to Sunday's final, crushing Tamarine Tansugarn and Caroline Wozniacki in the third round and quarterfinals before dismissing No.16 seed Agnieszka Radwanska in a closer contest, 64 63.
On the other side of the draw, the unseeded Zvonareva was causing a stir with upsets over seeds Francesca Schiavone, Dinara Safina and Sybille Bammer, and then made it past one of her nemeses, China's Li Na, in a tight three-setter in the semifinals. Bammer had taken out No.2 seed Svetlana Kuznetsova in the third round before falling to Zvonareva in the quarters and Li had taken out No.3 seed Jelena Jankovic before falling to the Russian in the semis.
In the final, which was the 12th all-Russian Sony Ericsson WTA Tour final of all time and the first in more than a year, it was Sharapova who came out firing, dropping serve at love in the first game but blowing through six consecutive games to win the first set in 23 minutes. Zvonareva retaliated in the second set, rallying from behind in each of the first three games en route to a 3-0 lead, and never really looked back before taking the set in 44 minutes.
It seemed as though both players' best form would collide in the deciding set as Zvonareva built a 30-15 lead serving in the opening game, but there would be a blowout once more as Sharapova belted her powerful, precise groundstrokes to perfection and totally ran away with it, needing only 24 more minutes to wrap up an emphatic 61 26 60 championship victory.
"I was kind of sleeping in the beginning but I got my feet going," Sharapova said. "I had so many opportunities at the start of the second set but didn't take them, and she's the type of player that plays better when she's down; I've seen it before. The first game of the third was important. I got myself going by winning some of the long points in that game and I just felt things started changing from there.
"I didn't feel I played my best tennis today - it was very up and down - but I found something to get me going and came out of it with a win. When you've got five matches in five days you can't expect to play your best every day."
It is Sharapova's sixth Tier I title after prior wins at Tokyo [Pan Pacific] in 2005, Indian Wells, San Diego and Zürich in 2006 and again San Diego last summer. She is now 18-7 lifetime in Sony Ericsson WTA Tour finals as well as 14-0 on the season and 9-0 lifetime in Doha. Things couldn't be more perfect these days for the Russian megastar, who hasn't even hit her 21st birthday.
"You strive to play at your best and put on the best performances as you can; I've had a perfect start to this year but I'm still very young and have many more months to compete and many more tournaments to play," said Sharapova on her goals. "Hopefully I can keep playing at this level and stay healthy, and continue to keep winning. I really just take it one match at a time."
For Zvonareva it was still a career week, reaching her 12th and biggest career final, having reached a final above the Tier III level just once before - at the now discontinued event in Philadelphia in 2004, which was a Tier II (she was a runner-up to Amélie Mauresmo). But wins over the likes of Li - against whom she had never won a set from previously - were certainly encouraging.
It wasn't a week to remember for everyone. Sharapova was the only Top 4 seed to make it to her projected semifinal berth, with Kuznetsova and Jankovic both crashing out early and top seed Ana Ivanovic injuring her left ankle and having to pull out of the draw prior to her third round match. Anna Chakvetadze, Venus Williams and Marion Bartoli were ousted early on as well. Top doubles team Cara Black and Liezel Huber fared better, making it all the way to the final, but hit a roadblock against No.3 seeds Kveta Peschke and Rennae Stubbs, who outduelled them in a match tie-break, 61 57 107, for their fourth title as a team (they won at Los Angeles, Stuttgart and Zürich last year).