STUTTGART: World number two Maria Sharapova saved her best performance of the week for last when she successfully defended her Stuttgart Grand Prix title with a 6-4, 6-3 victory over second-seed Li Na of China to kick off her claycourt season in style yesterday.
Sharapova, who needed three sets in all her previous rounds in Stuttgart, found it easier against Li, taking revenge for her Australian Open straight-sets semi-final defeat to the Chinese.
“I thought I would play three sets,” said Sharapova before stepping into a luxury sports car, a gift from the tournament sponsors. “Li is a great opponent. I knew it would be one of the toughest matches because she had a great week.
“I was very fortunate to be in this position. Our head-to-head is pretty tight. She beat me in Australia and she beat me pretty well so I wanted revenge.”
The top seed, her loud grunts echoing around the stadium, snatched a break at the start, with a sizzling backhand down the line that left Li stranded.
The Australian Open finalist bounced back in the next game and grabbed her own first break when Sharapova sent a forehand long after a long rally.
Sharapova was in no mood for adventures, however, and quickly established a double break cushion.
The pair traded blows until Sharapova earned another break point and went 4-3 up.
With a superb first-serve figure throughout the game, she kept her opponent pinned to the back and earned her second title of the year.
Nadal wins record eighth title in Barcelona
Meanwhile, Rafael Nadal extended his record number of Barcelona titles to eight as he brushed off a slow start to beat Spanish compatriot Nicolas Almagro 6-4, 6-3.
Last weekend’s Monte Carlo runner-up regained his accustomed position on an ATP winner’s podium with his fourth title of 2013 and his third on clay for the year. The Spaniard won his 39th clay title and 54th overall.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 29th, 2013.