Maria Sharapova battles past Simona Halep to clinch Madrid title
At the end of the first set in Madrid, it appeared Simona Halep might relegate Maria Sharapova to a second straight runner-up finish at the Mutua Madrid Open. But the Russian grit her teeth and reconstructed her game to eke out a hard fought 1-6, 6-2, 6-3 victory over her stubborn Romanian opponent to clinch the 31st title of her career and the first in Madrid.
Halep had won her last six finals including the one in Doha earlier this year, but just could not pin Sharapova down long enough to make it count in Madrid.
Sharapova was coming off a third title at the Porsche Open in Stuttgart, and seemed to be riding a wave of confidence coming into the final, especially after that three set victory over Li Na. But Halep, the WTA Most Improved Player of 2013, got off to a sizzling start to quickly push Sharapova to the corner. The World No. 5 raced away with a couple of early breaks to gain a 4-0 lead and take control of the set.
Maria finally held serve in the fifth game, but only after saving another break point. The respite did not last long though as she surrendered the set in the seventh game, again on her own serve. It was a shaky start for last year’s finalist, who made 15 unforced errors and offered six break points to constantly trail the aggressive Romanian.
The Romanian may have won the first set, but the gritty Russian is not a damsel who blinks in moments of distress. She is a fighter at heart, and as she grit her teeth at the beginning of the second set, muttering to herself, it was clear Maria would look to find a way back into the contest.
She did just that as she broke in the first game of the second set to stem the tide that was threatening to sink her hopes for a maiden title in Madrid. The second game proved pivotal – Maria was under duress from a determined effort by Halep, and in saving three break points, ensured that the gains from that early break weren’t wiped away.
Buoyed by her resurgence, Sharapova started to use her forehand to lethal effect, holding to love in the fourth game to take charge of the second set at 3-1. She insured the set by breaking a second time in the seventh game, before holding to love in the next to even the match.
The momentum had shifted towards the Russian, and Halep dug herself a deeper hole by playing some listless tennis to fall behind by two breaks at 1-4 in the decisive third stretch. The World No. 8 had the trophy in her sights, but fumbled briefly to surrender an easy break in the sixth game.
Halep consolidated the break to inch closer at 3-4, but was still a break down to the determined Russian. With the Romanian serving to stay in the match, Sharapova showcased her terrific defensive skills to keep the ball in play despite being stretched to the far side of the deuce court.
Eventually, Sharapova’s resilience proved too much for Halep who dumped a feeble backhand in the net to allow the Russian her first championship in the Spanish capital.
It wasn’t the best of days for Sharapova, who survived eight double faults and 30 unforced errors, half of which came in the the first set. But in the end, her trademark grit and determination proved too much for a fighting Simona.
Sharapova has won all 11 of her matches this year on clay and should be considered a strong favourite for the French Open scheduled for the end of this month. But she will quickly hop on a flight to Rome to play another WTA Premier event this week.