Maria Sharapova has been candid in admitting that clay is not her strong suit. Yet, in today’s final at the Internazionali BNL D’Italia, one would have thought that the Russian was a court specialist. Sharapova bullied 2010 French Open finalist Samantha Stosur around to claim her first premier clay court trophy with a 6-2,6-4 victory.
Sharapova and Stosur last collided in the round of 16 at the Sony Ericsson Open with the Russian triumphing in straight sets. With a 7-0 record against the Australian, Sharapova came in oozing confidence.
From the initial strike, Sharapova used her powerful forehand to assert her will and broke in the opening game. Then, with a brilliant volley winner, Sharapova consolidated at love. Later, with Stosur slicing a backhand long, Sharapova took a double break lead for 3-0.
After Sharapova went ahead 4-0, Stosur broke to narrow the gap to 2-4. However, with another forehand from Stosur traveling out of play, Sharapova had triple break point and converted. Next, Sharapova overcame a 0-30 deficit and closed out the set.
In the second set, the players traded breaks the first two games and Stosur held for 2-1. At that point, it appeared that this could turn into a contest.
But, following a love service game by Sharapova, Stosur pushed a forehand up the line long to hand her rival triple break point. When Stosur committed another miscue, Sharapova was again in control with a 3-2 advantage.
With Sharapova in front 40-0, Stosur worked her way to deuce and the later got a break point when her counterpart double faulted. Still, Stosur could not capitalize. Sharapova guarded serve to stretch her lead to 4-2.
Ultimately, the moment arrived for Sharapova to serve for the championship at 5-4. With Stosur sending the return long, Sharapova had match point. On the first opportunity, Sharapova connected with a forehand up the line to bag her maiden title of 2011.
Sharapova’s first final of the year was at the Sony Ericsson Open where she was beaten by Victoria Azarenka. The two actually clashed in the quarterfinals in Rome. After taking the first set, Azarenka was forced to forfeit the match because of a right elbow injury.
Sharapova took full advantage of that lifeline sweeping past world number one Caroline Wozniacki to reach the final. Interestingly, Sharapova’s last title was in May 2010 on clay in Strasbourg. Before today, the Russian had lost four straight finals: Birmingham, Stanford, Cincinnati and Miami.
Stosur put an optimistic spin on her performance this week and acknowledged the great play of her opponent.
For her part, Sharapova stated “I’m so excited to be the champ, I made the semifinals before and it’s always been a special place for me. I’ve always dreamed of winning here”.
Moreover, Sharapova thanked her team, her Italian and Russian fans for their support and cited it’s “only the beginning of many things to come” with the French Open and Wimbledon around the corner. As a result of this championship, Sharapova will assume the number seven ranking.
Petra Kvitova in Madrid, Julia Goerges in Stuttgart, Azarenka in Marbella, Wozniacki in Charleston and now Sharapova, this clay court swing emphasizes that there is no dominant woman on this surface this year. Consequently, another Francesca Schiavone coming out of obscurity to hoist the trophy at Roland Garros would not be shocking.