Wimbledon champion Maria Sharapova defeated an aching Serena Williams 4-6, 6-2, 6-4 on Monday to win the $3-million WTA Tour Championships and solidify her status among the game’s elite.
The 17-year-old Russian, who shot to global prominence when she defeated two-time defending champion Williams in the Wimbledon final, handed the former world number one another disappointing defeat in front of about 10 000 fans at the Staples Centre.
Williams, battling an abdominal injury, still managed to come within two games of winning the match, capturing the first four games of the third before Sharapova inexorably took control.
”I’m still shaking, I can’t believe it the way I pulled it out,” said Sharapova, who crumpled to her knees after blasting a forehand service return to lift the match after one hour and 46 minutes.
Sharapova said she felt flat in the first set, in which her double fault on break point gave Williams the lone break in the ninth game.
She double-faulted on break point again to let Williams go up 2-1 in the second, but broke back immediately to level the set and again to lead 4-2.
Trailing 5-2, an uncomfortable-looking Williams called for the trainer after the seventh game and left the court for treatment.
She said she had actually felt something wrong from the first game of the match.
”Actually in the first game I felt something in my stomach, but I thought it was just a stitch,” she said. ”Once I got into the rallies it was better.”
Not only was Williams in pain, she was also in fear of making the injury worse. She said she was thinking about the experience of her sister Venus, who strained an abdominal muscle in April of 2003, aggravated it playing the French Open and finally tore it at Wimbledon and missed the next six months.
”I was thinking ‘Oh, my god, I’m not going to be out six months, I don’t want this,”’ said Williams, who this year returned from a knee injury after an eight-month lay-off.
”It’s not worth it with a new year coming up.”
Williams thought about abandoning the match, and also toyed with the idea of serving underhand, but decided that tactic would be ”too tricky”.
Sharapova, who kept herself loose during Williams’s absence for treatment by practising her serve, broke Williams again in the eighth game to take the set.
But the 23-year-old American, who will end the year ranked seventh in the world, gritted her teeth in the third, breaking Sharapova to love in the opening game and holding her own serve to love in the next despite her hindered service motion.
She broke Sharapova again and held for 4-0, although by the end of that game her serve was a slowed-down, flat-footed shadow of her usual rocket blasts.
”I could tell she was having problems with her serve, but on the ground strokes she was teeing off on everything,” Sharapova said. ”I think she figured she can’t do anything from her serve so she better do it in the rallies … I couldn’t do anything.”
Eventually, however, Sharapova was able to take advantage of Williams’s weakness, winning the final six games to claim a victory that means she will finish the year ranked number four in the world, after ending 2003 ranked 32nd.
”I don’t think that’s a bad jump,” said Sharapova, who also won titles at Birmingham, Seoul and Tokyo this year.
Sharapova, already the second-youngest Wimbledon winner in the Open era, now joins Williams as the only two women to win the WTA Tour Championships in their first attempt. Williams accomplished the feat by walkover in 2001, when a knee injury forced Lindsay Davenport to withdraw from the final.
Sharapova, who claimed a $1-million first prize, also received a car from sponsor Porsche worth $56 300, which she said she will donate to aid victims of the Beslan school hostage crisis in which 344 people died in September. — Sapa-AFP