Nobody beats Samantha Stosur 10 times in a row. Samantha ended her 0-9 winless record against Maria Sharapova with a victory in round robin play at the 2011 WTA Championships Istanbul, 6-1 7-5. Not only had Samantha lost all 9 previous matches against Masha, but she had also lost 11 straight sets to Sharapova. On this day, it would be Samantha winning in straight sets. She came out en fuego, serving like she did in the US Open final. She faced no break points in the first set while Masha was erratic and error-prone. To be fair, Masha is coming in after time off to deal with an ankle injury, so it’s possible that she was a bit rusty with her timing and movement. However, I hesistate to say that because Samantha was truly playing well. Also, Masha was shaky at the US Open, almost getting upset in the first round by Heather Watson and then ultimately upset in the third round by Flavia Pennetta. Still, Masha has an outside shot of reaching #1 depending on how she and Caroline Wozniacki perform in Istanbul.
Sharapova might have been rusty against Samantha in her first match here, but Masha still jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the second set before Samantha fought her way back. Although her serve was shaky in the second set (4 double faults, 55% first serve percentage), Masha was finding her groove off the ground, ripping some sizzling reverse backhands past a charging Stosur. But things changed dramatically in the 4th game of the set. With Samantha down 0-3 and 0-40 against, it looked like Masha was going to go up 4-0 in the set and serve for 5-0. Considering Masha’s record coming in against Samantha, that might have been the beginning of a 3 set win for Sharapova. Instead, Stosur fought back from triple-break point down to win the game and then broke a rattled Sharapova in the next game to get back on serve 3-2. A game and hold later for Samantha and it was 3-3 as the momentum Masha had at the beginning of the set was gone. However, even though Sharapova ultimately lost this match, remember that this is round robin play. She can lose and still end up in the top 2 of her group and move on to the semifinals. Masha did put herself in a bad position. She will be favored against Li Na, who has not played well of late. But even if she wins that match…which is not a guarantee…Masha gets the very tough Victoria Azarenka after that. Although she could advance with two losses depending on what others in her group do, it’s not a good idea to bank on that. The wildcard is Li Na. At her best, she can beat everybody in this event. But since Roland Garros, she has been a player who looks like she could lose to anybody. How many wins it will take to advance from the White Group might well depend on what Li Na shows up. Her first match will be on the second day against Masha.