Stuttgart: Sharapova d. Azarenka

by: Bobby Chintapalli | April 29, 2012

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FrauAfter Maria Sharapova won her semifinal match, a journalist asked how many cars she has. Sharapova knew where the woman was going. “I have a few,” she said with a laugh and continued. “I do not have a Porsche yet.” She was referring, of course, to the Porsche awarded to the tournament’s winner. “Do you have room for it?” asked the journalist. Sharapova was ready again. “You can always make room in the garage for a car. I would love to.”

It turns out she will have to do just that, because world No. 2 Sharapova beat No. 1 Victoria Azarenka 6-1, 6-4 in an 84-minute final in which she played well from start to finish.

Sharapova won her first title of the year, beating the last three Grand Slam champions along the way and defeating Azarenka in a final for the first time in five attempts. At a tournament in which the four top-ranked players made the semifinals and the top two made the final, the 25-year-old won her 25th career singles title. She’s now won at least one title every year for the past decade.

Sharapova won this match by doing the usual things well—she hit her groundstrokes hard and served eight aces. She also won by doing some unusual things well—she slid! She moved better on clay than she has in the past and moved better than Azarenka today. Sharapova once called herself a cow on ice, but she looked more like a gazelle in Stuttgart.

Sharapova's groundstrokes were on, often finding the lines, and she made few errors. In all, Sharapova hit 31 winners and just 13 errors. She’s served well this week, and today was no exception. Seven of her eight aces ended games, and Sharapova faced (and fought off) just one break point all match. After Sharapova wrapped up the opening set with an ace, Tennis Channel's Lindsay Davenport called it “really just the perfect set for Maria.”

Azarenka, for her part, started so badly that over on Eurosport, Jo Durie was “stunned.” After three games, Azarenka had won just two points. She didn’t win a single point on her second serve in the first set. Her subpar performance may have had something to do with a wrist problem a trainer looked at between sets. (That was shortly after Azarenka and Sharapova, maybe not looking or perhaps unwilling to make way, bumped into each other as they walked to their seats. A few games later the video was on YouTube.)

By the start of the second set it seemed to affect both of them, because Sharapova’s performance dropped. And surprisingly Azarenka managed to hold her own. The pair stayed on serve until 3-3, when Sharapova broke after an Azarenka backhand into the net. Sharapova held her next two service games at love, and she won her first match point on an Azarenka backhand return error.

Whatever happened today, these two make the WTA rankings feel satisfying. Azarenka and Sharapova are ranked No. 1 and No. 2, and it feels like they are. In recent years, drilling into the data clarified things. Right now it just confirms them. The Race points and prize money rankings, where Azarenka and Sharapova occupy the top two spots, say that, yes, our sense of things is right.

All of which gives the WTA a sense of order some say has been missing lately. Things may be a little unfamiliar (Caroline Wozniacki hasn’t won a title this year) and a little unexpected (neither has Petra Kvitova). But in some ways they’re starting to feel right, thanks to Azarenka, who this year became the player everyone thought she could be and then some. And also to Sharapova, who’s neither unfamiliar nor unexpected. At 25, it seems like she’s been winning forever, and she has the money, titles, and now also a brand new Porsche to show for it.

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