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Serena Williams Silences Sharapova for a record Sixth Sony Open Title

Serena Williams repelled Maria Sharapova 4-6, 6-3, 6-0 to win her sixth trophy at the Sony Open surpassing Steffi Graff with whom she was previously tied.

Williams had already made Sony Open history in the semifinals with the most victories on the women side, 60. Now, she wanted to stand in a league of her own by also capturing the trophy.

But, it was Sharapova in search of her first Sony Open crown, after failing four previous times, who handled the breezy conditions and the bright sun well early on. Subsequent to wasting three break point chances in a marathon eleven minute game, Sharapova fabricated a fourth in the fifth service game.

On that occasion when Williams’ backhand found the net, Sharapova converted the break for 3-2. However, the world number one applied the necessary pressure to bank the next game and square the set at 3 all.

Williams was not at her best on serve, frequently catching her toss and shading her eyes. In the ninth game, Williams double faulted to gift Sharapova a break point. When on the following point Williams dumped a forehand crosscourt into the net, Sharapova was in front 5-4.

With a love game replete with miscues by Williams, Sharapova sealed the first set. At that point, a visibly annoyed Williams slammed her racket against her chair, her wakeup call.

With an ace, Williams capped a love hold to start the second set. Then, by pushing Sharapova around, she got the break for 2-0.

Yet, a bevy of mistakes by Williams led to an ephemeral lead as Sharapova fabricated triple break point. As Williams fumbled another forehand, the players were back on serve.

Later, Sharapova set up triple break point once more with a backhand winner. By winning the fifth game, at 3-2, Sharapova was three holds from grabbing the elusive title and completing the rare feat of hoisting both the Indian Wells and Miami trophies. It has only been accomplished three times, last by Kim Clijsters in 2005.

Again though, Williams found the emergency brake. With two consecutive winners and a stellar return, Williams was at triple break point. As Sharapova’s stroke kissed the net’s bottom, the second set was leveled at 3 all.

Later courtesy of a double fault, Williams had a break point. She took a 5-3 lead when Sharapova committed another forehand error. Williams closed out the second set with an ace.

The decisive set became a nightmare for Sharapova. In the opening game, the world number two could not stave off double break point. Subsequent to Williams consolidating for 2-0, Sharapova threw in two successive double faults to provide her rival with an insurance break.

Williams pushed the cruise control button, capitalizing on a seventh break point to make it 100% conversion for the match and 5-0. Williams went on a ten game in a row tear to close out the championship.

Sharapova has gone down to Williams now in eleven successive encounters. She last triumphed in 2004. Today, in their maiden meeting in the final in Miami, Sharapova felt she wasted too many chances particularly in the second set “ I still had opportunities to get back at 3-4. I was up 40-15 and Love-30 in the next game. . . those are the games that you really need to keep challenging out there and keep being in them. . .those are the chances that you will have to take . . .if you want to win the match”.

Despite her heavy schedule up to this point, Sharapova cited fatigue was not a factor “ I feel fine. I’m very happy, very fortunate that I’ve been able to play. . . I have had a really great month and I think I can only take positives out of it, really”.

Clay is the next stop for the women’s tour. As the defending French Open champion, Sharapova is looking forward to Paris “when you experience such a nice moment in your career, to be able to come back there and to play on that court again where you lifted the trophy, it’s always special and meaningful. Especially for the amount of years that you’ve worked so hard to get to that point. I’ll treat it as any other title that maybe I haven’t won and really want to win because I would love to win it again”.

For the match, Williams’ first serve percentage was 51. She fired 35 winners and 32 unforced errors and was behind 4-6, 2-3. Sharapova connected on 64% of her first serves, struck 13 winners and 23 unforced errors.

The statistics explain Williams’ surprise in pulling off the victory “I honestly can’t say right now [how I turned it around]. I just feel everything was going so fast. . . I was just making so many errors. I just was like, Serena, are you really going to get to the final and not play up to your potential? I don’t think I had enough energy. I think I may have done too much work yesterday, may have hit too long, done too much gym”.

Williams’ strategy to get back into the match “at one point, I was just like, conserve your energy and try and relax and play better”. The serve was not a weapon today. Williams was hitting the first ball at times at 79 mph “I honestly have not served great this whole tournament, if you look at the stats. It hasn’t been my best week serving wise. Usually in the later rounds, I’m able to pick it up and do a little better. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to do that today, so I had to rely on other parts of my game”.

Williams has eyed that sixth trophy since 2009 when she lost to Victoria Azarenka in the final. This week, she even biked to the tournament to assure she would make her third round match.

Now, Williams will shift her focus to the clay in search of a companion for her lonely 2008 French Open trophy, the only major she possesses just one of. Clay is perhaps Williams’ most challenging surface. But, she does not view it as such “I think it’s only as hard as you say it is. I happen to love Roland Garros and I’m happy to play there. Hopefully I can just take it one match at a time. That’s in the future. I’m just going to do it one step at a time”.

Today’s performance by Williams qualifies as “winning ugly”. If on her worst day, Williams can walk away with the Sony Open, her 16th major, a second French Open may not be far behind.

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