Staring down a break point when serving for the match, Samantha Stosur cracked a kick serve that skipped off the sideline as if bouncing off a trampoline. Stosur's competitive calm on crucial points—and her willingness to hit out when it mattered most—helped her scratch a seven-year itch and snap a career-long streak of futility against Maria Sharapova.
The reigning U.S. Open champion saved six of seven break points, including three in the final game, to subdue Sharapova, 6-1, 7-5, at the WTA Championships in Istanbul. It was Stosur's first win in 10 meetings—spanning seven years—with the second-ranked Russian. Sharapova had been downright oppressive in sweeping seven of their prior nine matches in straight sets, including all three times they faced off this season. The seventh-ranked Stosur flipped the script today, firing her favored forehand with accuracy and ambition, scrambling to send slice backhands and forehands deep into the court and defiantly fighting off break points throughout the victory.
"Obviously, it's a big win; you never want to lose to someone 10 times in a row," Stosur told Tennis Channel's Katrina Adams after the match. "So I did things a bit different and it worked out."
It was Sharapova's first match since twisting her ankle in Tokyo three weeks ago. She played with her left ankle taped, and while her movement did not appear compromised, it took some time for the 2004 WTA Championships champ to shake off the rust of inactivity, as she scattered shots beyond the baseline.
Bursting out of the blocks quickly, Stosur won eight of the first nine points and built a 3-0 lead. Sharapova's coach, Thomas Hogstedt, came out and urged his charge to play with a bit more patience and "roll the ball back crosscourt" to Stosur's weaker backhand wing. But Stosur managed her backhand effectively and prevented the flat-hitting Sharapova from getting in a groove by mixing the height and pace of her shots. She frequently followed low slice shots with her trademark titanic topspin forehand to keep Sharapova, whose footwork was not consistently sharp in the early stages, off balance.
After Stosur smacked a cross-court forehand that was called out, she successfully challenged the call and broke for a 5-1 lead before serving out the set in 27 minutes. Stosur won 25 of 37 points played in the opener and did not face a break point.
A stubborn Sharapova stepped closer to the baseline and blasted her way to a 3-0 second set lead. The former No. 1 was on the verge of turning the set into a rout when Stosur saved break points to hold for 1-3. The fifth game proved pivotal as Sharapova squandered a 30-0 lead. Facing break point, Sharapova was in complete command, sending Stosur sprinting off the court, but with an open space of green court before her, Sharapova badly bungled a backhand beyond the baseline and dropped serve. It would prove very costly.
The Sharapova backhand is one of the best shots in women's tennis, but she was often overly-ambitious on that with it today, and later sailed another long to fall into an inescapable 5-6 hole. Sharapova arrived in Istanbul with a shot of surpassing Caroline Wozniacki for the year-end top spot; now she needs a win over Li Na tomorrow to sustain her semifinal hopes.