The early season struggles of Maria Sharapova seem like ages ago. The career Grand Slam winner earned her 2nd straight tournament victory, besting Simona Halep in the final of the 2014 Mutua Madrid Open, 1-6 6-2 6-3. Early on, it seemed the fates were favoring Simona as the rising Romanian ripped through a 6-1 first set drubbing of Sharapova. It was exquisite measured aggression. She played her trademark counter-punching style, but stepped in to attack balls and put the pressure on the Russian superstar. Even the 1 game Masha won was a chore. It easily could have been a bagel set. After a first set visit from coach Sven Groeneveld, Sharapova showed why she is a future Hall of Famer. The player who easily beat Agnieszka Radwanska the day before wasn’t present in the first set. She was in the next two. Masha raised her level of play and handled Halep the same way she handles other counter-punchers like Caroline Wozniacki. She hit the ball through her. As great as Simona has been playing, Sharapova went to a place where Halep couldn’t follow. It was the kind of tennis that evokes words like lethal…brutal…bludgeoning. Masha broke Simona in the first game of the second set and really didn’t look back the rest of the way. It’s a testament to Halep’s fighting spirit that she even managed to win a handful of games over the final two sets. Sharapova had taken control of the match. The only way Masha would lose is if her level of play dropped. It didn’t.
With the win, Masha notches her 31st singles title, which includes 4 Majors. It’s also her 9th clay court title. In fact, her last 5 finals, 3 of which she won, have been on clay. She is the reigning 3-time defending champion at the clay court Porsche Tennis Grand Prix in Stuttgart. She has reached the final of the past two Roland Garros (French Open) tournaments, including winning the title in 2012 to complete the career Grand Slam. Since losing to eventual champion Li Na at Roland Garros 2011, Masha is 47-3 on clay. If you take Serena Williams out of that equation, Sharapova is a perfect 47-0 versus everybody else. That is very impressive, especially for a player who at one time was not considered a good clay court player. Her distaste for the dirt culminated with her quipping that she moved “like a cow on ice” at Roland Garros 2007. Now Masha moves like a gazelle in an open grassland. Her early season swoon coupled with missing most of the last half of 2013 caused her ranking to drop to #9. She’ll move to #7 after Madrid, but ranking is of little importance. If Sharapova plays like she did the last two sets against Simona Halep, she’s a threat to anybody…even Serena…from anywhere in the draw.
ALL PICS CLICK TO ENLARGE
8 MARIA SHARAPOVA (won 1-6 6-2 6-3 vs 4 Simona Halep)