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Making a Statement: Clijsters Shakes Off Sharapova to Steal Cincinnati Title

At the Western and Southern Financial Group Women’s Open, Kim Clijsters survived three championship points from Maria Sharapova just as the skies were opening.  When the match resumed after a 70 minute rain delay, Clijsters, the 4th seed, changed not only her outfit, but her game.  Clijsters worked her way back to rob the trophy from the 10th seed with a 2-6,7-6,6-2 victory.

Although Clijsters had a slim edge over Sharapova in their head to head at 4-3, the latter had prevailed at their ultimate three meetings.  However, a lot had taken place since the 2007 Australian Open semifinal, the last time Clijsters and Sharapova clashed.  For Clijsters, the wanting of a family and marriage pushed her away from competition for almost two years.  Yet, in the summer of 2009, Clijsters marked her returned on tour in grand style with the title at the U.S. Open.  Sharapova had a near 10 month absence from the game due to shoulder surgery.  Since getting back in May 2009, Sharapova’s serve, one of the principle components which propelled her to three major titles, has been unpredictable.

Strangely enough, it was Clijsters’ serve which was her Achilles heel from the outset.  After being ahead 40-15 in the first game, Clijsters double faulted to give Sharapova break point.  Despite recovering and salvaging a 0-40 game subsequently, Clijsters could not find any answers to an attacking and aggressive Sharapova.  After fighting off two break points to arrive at 2 all, from 15-40, Sharapova aided by miscues from Clijsters got to deuce.  Then, when Clijsters’ backhand crosscourt sailed long, Sharapova had her fifth break point.  The Russian banked the break when Clijsters committed her fourth double fault.  After consolidating for 4-2, Sharapova’s provoked three consecutive backhand mistakes from Clijsters to obtain a second break.  Next, with a love game, Sharapova closed out the set.

Clijsters opened the second set with a love hold.  Once Sharapova netted a backhand, Clijsters had break point.  With a backhand return winner, Clijsters capitalized for a 2-0 lead.  But, with two errors and a double fault, Clijsters faced triple break point.  With another Clijsters’ backhand going out of play, Sharapova was back on serve.  Later, on a deep return by Sharapova, Clijsters dumped her next stroke into the net handing Sharapova double break point. As a result of Clijsters’ forehand up the line landing wide, Sharapova captured the break for 4-3 and went on to consolidate for 5-3.   By unleashing on a forehand return, Sharapova struck a winner for match point.  With Sharapova sending a forehand crosscourt long, Clijsters got to deuce.  Two more championship points followed for Sharapova with Clijsters successfully salvaging both.  On the game’s fourth deuce, the rain intensified causing play to be stopped.

When the women took the court after the weather interruption, a new Clijsters quickly guarded serve for 4-5.  With Sharapova serving for the title, Clijsters coaxed the Russian into two backhand errors to earn double break point.  Thanks to a couple of big second serves, Sharapova brushed those aside for deuce.  However, another backhand miscue by Sharapova led to break point for Clijsters.  As a result of a double fault, Clijsters leveled the set at 5 all.   The second set was decided by a tiebreaker.

By double faulting on the initial point, Clijsters gifted Sharapova a mini-break.  The Russian went on to take a 3-0 lead.  Because of mistakes by Sharapova including a double fault, Clijsters seized the next five points.  After Sharapova erased the mini-break advantage, she double faulted to give Clijsters a 6-4 edge.  As Sharapova misfired with the backhand crosscourt on set point, Clijsters was back in contention.

Following a comfortable hold by both players, a double fault and two more backhand flubs gave Clijsters triple break point.  The Belgian pocketed the break for 2-1 when Sharapova double faulted.  At this point, Sharapova summoned the trainer.  Unbeknownst, in the second game, Sharapova misstepped and sustained a foot injury.  After Clijsters consolidated, Sharapova had difficulty serving and stared at triple break point.  With a backhand winner, Clijsters bagged the break and with a love game stretched her lead to 5-1.  Sharapova continued to battle after maintaining serve, effacing triple match point and fabricating a break point.  But, limited by injury, Sharapova could not do much.  On her fifth championship point, Clijsters watched Sharapova’s stroke travel long and claimed her 38th career title.

In spite of the disappointing ending, for Sharapova, as the U.S. Open nears, the hope is that her foot issue is only minor because she is once again a threat.  Sharapova’s ranking will improve from 15 to 12.  Cincinnati is Clijsters’ third title of the year and her second premier trophy of 2010, the maiden one was at the Sony Ericsson Open.  On Monday, Clijsters’ ranking will go from number 7 back into the top four.

Since claiming the French Open championship in 2008, Ana Ivanovic has made a mad dash toward the bottom of the sport.  From a ceiling at number one two years ago, Ivanovic’s ranking has been heading in the direction of the cellar this year.  Entering this tournament, Ivanovic was the world number 62.  However, things appeared on the upswing for the Serbian.

Just a couple of games from defeat in the first round, Ivanovic rebounded to steal the match from 9th seed and 2010 Stanford champion Victoria Azarenka.  That victory was followed by straight set wins over Yaroslava Shvedova in the second round, Elena Vesnina in the third round and Akgul Amanmuradova in the quarterfinals.  But, in the semifinals, Ivanovic suffered another setback.  Simply three games into the match against Clijsters, Ivanovic experienced pain in her left foot.  After being attended by the trainer, Ivanovic proceeded back on court.  One point later, unable to move, Ivanovic threw in the towel.

Ivanovic’s countrywoman and defending champion, Jelena Jankovic was ousted by qualifier Amanmuradova in the third round. Jankovic, the top seed, was not the only surprise departure in that round.  Caroline Wozniacki, the second seed, also went out.  Reigning French Open champion and fifth seed Francesca Schiavone was sent packing in the second round by Vesnina.

Along with Sharapova, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova  was another Russian who made headlines in Cincinnati this week.  Pavlyuchenkova, the world number 25, quickly adjusted back to the hardcourt after her clay court title in Istanbul two weeks ago bouncing Daniela Hantuchova in the first round and dispatching third seed Elena Demetieva in the second.  Then, the teenager fought off 13th seed Shahar Peer and 12th seed Yanina Wickmayer in the third round and quarterfinals respectively before being edged out by Sharapova.  With 28 wins and her first WTA career title in Monterrey,  Pavlyuchenkova leads the tour in hardcourt victories.  At the upcoming U.S. Open, Pavlyuchenkova will undoubtedly be a headache for her peers.

Neither Serena nor Venus Williams participated at this event.  Moreover, these two will be absent next week in Montreal.  Serena is still recuperating from foot surgery while Venus is nursing a right knee problem.  As the women sharpen their game on route to New York, one wonders how much of a factor the Williams sisters will be following a two month break.

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