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andrewbroad
Apr 4th, 2005, 02:11 AM
Maria enjoyed a superb run to the final of the Nazgűl-100 Open at Miami, regarded by many as the "fifth Grand Slam" although IMO it is below the Olympics and the WTA Tour Championships (which Maria won last November). She scored a splendid 6-4 6-3 victory over Venus Williams in the semi-finals.

But her amazing record in finals was dented by windy conditions and by the relentless retrieving of Kim Clijsters - both key ingredients for a Maria defeat because she is a very precise player who relies on accuracy more than the brute-force hitters do (e.g. Lindsay Davenport and the Williams sisters), and she always seems to struggle most when a lot of balls come back. She lost the final 6-3 7-5.

"Sharapova was distracted by the wind, resorting to desperate volleying and drop-shot tactics. Clijsters was far more consistent and mobile." [CEEFAX]

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Photos
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1. http://news.search.yahoo.com/search/news/?c=news_photos&p=sharapova
(scroll down to the semi-finals - those are the best ones)

2. Search Getty Images for "sharapova" - on page 2 she looks gorgeous

3. http://www.wtaworld.com/showthread.php?t=99305&page=60

I'm glad Maria has finally burned those yellow dresses. ;)
Pink suits her much better IMO.

================================
ATP and WTA Tour Awards Ceremony (Tuesday 22nd March)
================================

Maria won three awards:
* Player of the Year
* Most Improved Player of 2004
* WTATour.com Fans' Favorite

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Early rounds
============

Maria sailed through the early rounds of Miami with the following impressive scorelines:

1r bye
2r + Eleni Daniilidou, 6-0 6-4
3r + Marissa Irvin, 6-2 6-0

Maria led Philippoussis-clone Daniilidou 6-0 2-0, but the last time she won 6-0 6-0 was when she beat Catalina Castańo in the first round of ITF Peachtree 2002.

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Fourth round (Monday 28th March)
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+ MARIA SHARAPOVA [2] d. SHINOBU ASAGOE [23], 6-1 6-2

Maria had struggled quite a bit to beat Asagoe 6-2 3-6 6-0 in the second round of Miami 2004, but this time she stormed through in 65 minutes (not including a 30-minute rain-delay).

Teletext: "Asagoe was solid from the back of the court but had no weapons to trouble Sharapova, who used her improving serve and huge power to stride through."

Maria's serve is still improving? :eek:

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Quarter-final (Tuesday 29th March)
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+ MARIA SHARAPOVA [2] d. JUSTINE HENIN-HARDENNE [19], 6-1 6-7 (6/8) 6-2

Henin-Hardenne, a diminutive but muscular player with a much-hyped one-handed backhand and three Grand Slam titles to her name, was playing her first tournament of 2005 after a debilitating virus ruined most of her 2004 season, and was followed by a knee-injury.

I casually followed live scores at www.nasdaq-100open.com (http://www.nasdaq-100open.com), but it got horribly tense when Maria choked away a 4-1 lead with two breaks in the second set!

Maria was broken back for 4-2, but held the other break until she served for the match at 6-1 5-4. She blew a 40/0 lead - three match-points - in that game! She double-faulted on break-point to make it 5-5.

Maria missed one break-point on Henin-Hardenne's serve at 5-5, and saved four set-points on her serve at 5-6. In the second-set tiebreak, Maria recovered from 2/4 and 4/6 (two set-points) to reach 6/6, but it was in vain as she lost the tiebreak 8/6.

Maria then had treatment on a a stiff back that was hampering her movement. "I've had a back problem for a while. I did so much running it started to get stiff, so I got some treatment and I just tried to forget about it. Hopefully I'll be back fresh."

To Maria's credit after that setback, the third set was much more straightforward, with Maria breaking for 2-0, and again when Henin-Hardenne served at 2-5. The match lasted 2h17m.

Both girls had 19 winners, but while Maria made 29 unforced errors, Henin-Hardenne made 36.

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Quotes
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Maria: "She has been a top player. I was expecting a really tough match. It came out to be really tough. I knew I had to lift my game. She's a huge fighter out there."

>>>
Q. Can you just talk about what you have to do mentally after you serve for the match in the second set and it doesn't pan out to regroup.

MARIA SHARAPOVA: I guess just keep fighting and keep being positive even though, you know, you just missed out on a big opportunity. Easy to say, hard to do.

But just I think it's all mental. You just got to stay positive. You know, I was playing well till that point, then why can't I just keep playing well?
<<<

"I feel that I've been improving with every single match I've played. I feel like I'm in pretty good shape. I'm happy to be in the final."


Henin-Hardenne: "I think we were both tired in the third. It's pretty amazing. I couldn't imagine before coming to Miami that I would play at this level. I did a good job, so it's good for my confidence. What I did after seven months off, it's fantastic. It's very good for the future; I showed that I'm back. I'm so happy to be back on the courts. I know I need matches, I need more competition, but it's been a big step for me this week, it's very good for the next tournaments."

"She was playing unbelievable tennis. She's tall and she's powerful. She's a great player."

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Semi-final (Thursday 31st March)
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+ MARIA SHARAPOVA [2] d. VENUS WILLIAMS [8], 6-4 6-3

Some people who were lucky enough to see this match described it as one of the best (if not the best) performances of Maria's career. CEEFAX said Maria "raised her game superbly" and "hit her very best form in the second set."

Mark Hodgkinson of The Daily Telegraph said Williams "was never able to compete with the greater weight and depth of shot from Sharapova."

Even though Venus Williams has been playing in a diminished capacity for much of the last 15 months, she had scored a stunning upset over Australian Open champion Serena Williams in the quarter-finals, and this victory meant so much to Maria that she celebrated it by sinking to her knees (gosh I love it when she does that!)


The crowd was hostile to Maria after she gestured for them to keep quiet at 2-2 in the first set, "but the ensuing booing from the American fans seemed to inspire her." [Teletext]


Again I casually followed live scores until Maria had match-point on Williams's serve at 4-6 2-5 30/40. But she missed that, and so found herself serving for the match at 5-3:

0/40 (three break-points) -> Deuce, ad W, Deuce #2, ad M (MP #2), Deuce #3, ad W, Deuce #4, ad W, Deuce #5, ad M (MP #3), Maria won 6-4 6-3.


The following excerpts from a Yahoo! Sports report provide valuable insight:

"Hitting with the precision of a ball machine, only noisier, Sharapova consistently placed her powerful serves and groundstrokes within inches of the lines.

"Both players held easily through the first nine games, before Williams wavered serving at 4-5. Sharapova hit two strong returns for the first break-point chance, and Williams sailed a forehand long to give the Russian the set.

"Sharapova broke again and took leads of 3-0 and 4-1 in the second set. She hit one forehand winner past the 6-foot-1 Williams from two steps behind the baseline.

"By the end, the grinding rallies had Williams shrieking, too. The final game lasted 16 points, with both players racing corner to corner in pursuit of shots. Williams failed to convert her only break-point chances in the match and finally sailed a weary backhand long on match point."

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Statistics
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Maria had a winner:unforced-error ratio of 11:12, while Williams was `exactly twice as aggressive' with a W:UE of 22:24. However, from what I've heard it was Maria dominating most of the rallies, making Venus do all the running.

They both got 74% of first serves in, but while Maria won 76% of points on her first serve and 69% on her second, Williams won only 68% first, 57% second.

Maria broke twice (once in each set) from five break-points, while Williams failed to convert any of the six break-points she held (all in the second set).

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Quotes
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Maria: "I thought I played really well. I was in control for most of the match, and I was serving really well. I was getting a lot of advantage from them, and I was able to break her in the first set when she tried to hold her serve at 5-4.

[about Venus Williams]
"She's got a lot of fighting spirit out there. She just fights till the end. She has a big serve, which is one of her biggest weapons, a great backhand, and she's fast. There's not too many weaknesses in her game.

"I think we both fought to the end. So many points were so big, but I'm a big competitor and I love to fight. Everyone is hungry and everyone wants to beat me, so I know that I have to be a real fighter and big-point player if I want to win."

[about the final game]
"I was very proud of myself for being able to win that game. It was a very tough one."


Venus: "She played fairly consistently. I probably shouldn't have made so many mistakes. I'll remember not to next time."

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Final (Saturday 2nd April)
=====

Maria's final opponent was Kim Clijsters, a former world number one and runner-up in four Grand Slams who had missed most of the last year with a career-threatening wrist-injury (she had surgery in June to repair a torn tendon and remove a cyst, then spent two months in a cast), but has made an astonishing recovery to win Indian Wells and Miami back-to-back as an unseeded player with a ranking of #133 going into the former.

In the last four weeks she's played more like a #1-ranked player, her victims including #1 Lindsay Davenport, #2 Amélie Mauresmo (6-1 6-0!), #3 our Maria, #5 Elena Dementieva (twice) and #6 Anastasia Myskina. She wasn't achieving these kinds of results even before her injury. So I had a bad feeling going into the final.

It really is an unbelievable miracle for Clijsters, although the danger-signs were there in the way she was able to dismiss lesser opponents like she'd never been away, even in her aborted comeback at Hasselt last September (she reinjured her wrist and had to spend another two months in a cast).

The question now is whether her dodgy wrist will stand up to all this punishment, and how she will cope when the pressure of expectation is back on her and she is no longer fresh and just having fun out there.

I can't say I like Clijsters, for her game is devoid of the flair that I admire in my fanees, her beauty is not in the eye of this beholder, and I must confess I felt a considerable amount of jealousy towards Clijsters in the years when Jelena Dokic was struggling to maintain her superiority over the slightly younger girl with whom she emerged from junior tennis, and a considerable amount of Schadenfreude when Lindsay Davenport took Clijsters to the cleaners at Wimbledon 2001.

But Clijsters comes across as a really nice person, and although I was certainly chagrined by her win over Maria, it doesn't rankle in my mind like a win over Jelena would have done four years ago.


Clijsters said the following things before the final:

[Re. Maria]
"Overall she is a great player. She moves well. She hits the ball really hard. She's got that fighting spirit that you don't see a lot out there, especially not for girls that are only 17 years old. That's amazing to see.

[Do you hit the ball harder than before?]
"Maybe I place it a little better and that's why it feels for the opponents like they're a little under pressure. I do feel like I'm using my angles better.

[Re. her wrist]
"After those three days where I had to play every day, I felt it was getting a little bit stiff. I spoke to the WTA physio, and just for prevention they wanted me to tape it, to take all the pressure off the tendon. The tendon is getting a bit tired. I think it's pretty normal for this moment."

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First set
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Not having access to Eurosport, I followed the match on the live scoreboard at www.nasdaq-100open.com (http://www.nasdaq-100open.com). Here are the notes I made as it went along.

The match started at 12:09 EST.

Clijsters serving 0-0: 15/0, 15/30, 30/30, 30/40 (BP), Deuce, ad M (BP #2), broken

Important for Maria to get off to a good start after Clijsters thrashed Amélie Mauresmo 6-1 6-0 in the semi-finals! A lot of times the start of a match can really set the tone for what will follow.

Sharapova serving 1-0: 0/30, 15/30, 30/30, 40/30, Deuce, ad C (BP), Deuce #2, ad C (BP #2), broken

Hmmph! :(

Clijsters serving 1-1: held to love

Now it's important for Maria to respond to that emphatic hold with one of her own. When Maria is holding serve easily, it puts so much pressure on a player like Clijsters to hold hers.

Sharapova serving 1-2: 15/0, 15/15, 15/30, 30/30, Clijsters hits a dead-netcord winner, 30/40 (BP) - due to rain, play was suspended at 12:25, resumed at 13:22 - Deuce, ad M, held

Phew - that's a long time to be facing a break-point!

Clijsters serving 2-2: 0/15, 15/15, 15/30, 30/30, 30/40 (BP), 40/40, ad C, held

If Maria loses this set now, those half-chances at 15/30 and 30/40 will really rankle in my mind.

Sharapova serving 2-3: 15/0, 15/15, 15/30, 30/30, 40/30, Deuce, ad C (BP), Deuce, ad C (BP #2), broken

Maria just lost two games that she had game-points in. Now she needs to prove she is the big-point player in this match.

Clijsters serving 4-2: 0/15, 15/15, 40/15, held
Sharapova serving 2-5: 40/0, 40/15, held
Clijsters serving for the first set at 5-3: 0/30, 15/30, 15/40 (2 BPs) -> 40/40, ad C (SP), Clijsters won first set 6-3 at 13:47.

There's no way Clijsters would have recovered from 15/40 if I had been supporting her instead! :fiery:

But it's not uncommon for Maria to make a slow start, lose the first set and go on to win in three.

There was a second, much shorter rain-delay between the first and second sets.

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Second set
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Play resumed at 13:57.

Sharapova serving 0-0: 0/30, 15/30, 15/40 (2 BPs), 30/40, broken

!#%$#&ing !$%#*!

Clijsters serving 1-0: 15/0, 15/15, 15/40 (2 BPs), broken

That's more like it! C'mon Maria!

Sharapova 1-1: 15/0, 15/15, 40/15, 40/30, held

Yais! And if Maria can keep holding serve, Clijsters will always be playing catch-up in this set. That's the benefit of losing the first set by an odd number of games.

Clijsters serving 1-2: held to love

One worrying statistic is that Clijsters is holding serve more easily than Maria so far this match. It shouldn't be that way round! :fiery:

Sharapova serving 2-2: 0/15, 15/15, 40/15 -> Deuce, ad C (BP), broken

And Maria is wasting plenty of opportunities; Clijsters isn't! :fiery:
I don't think it's going to be Maria's day today. :sad:

Clijsters serving 3-2: broken to love

I hope Maria is making me eat my words now! :)

Sharapova serving 3-3: 15/0, 15/15, 30/15, 30/30, 30/40 (BP), broken

Maria has now been a set and a break down on three separate occasions. The other two times, like all great champions she broke back immediately.

Clijsters serving 4-3: held to love
Sharapova serving to stay in the match at 3-5: 15/0, 15/15, 40/15, held

I think it's more difficult psychologically to serve for the match when your opponent has just held than when you've just broken them. If ever there was a time for Clijsters to choke...

Clijsters serving for the match at 5-4: 0/15, 15/15, 15/40 (2 BPs), broken

YAISS!! Clijsters's victory is in great danger now!! :D It all boils down to nerves now, and Maria is much stronger in that department.

Sharapova serving 5-5: 0/15, 15/15, 40/15 -> Deuce, ad C (BP), Deuce #2, ad C (BP #2), Deuce #3, ad C (BP #3), broken

40/15 to Deuce - that's been the story of the day for Maria. :( She has lost three games in this match after 40/15 leads.

Clijsters serving for the match at 6-5: 15/0, 15/15, 40/15 (2 Championship-Points) -> 40/40, ad C (Championship-Point #3), Clijsters won 6-3 7-5 at 14:45.

What a delicious irony it would have been if Maria had made Clijsters pay for blowing that 40/15 lead.

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Statistics
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Maria served - by Maria standards - very poorly, with 62% of first serves in, 49% of points won when she did so, 48% on second serve (halfway through the second set, Maria's second-serve percentage was actually /higher/ than her first). The corresponding statistics for Clijsters were 67%, 60% and 52%

Maria's serve seemed restricted, with only 107mph as her fastest, 97mph on average, and only one ace. Was this was due to the wind, her back-injury or just a bad day on her serve?

Maria broke 6 times from 12 break-points, Clijsters 4 from 8 - both 50%, but Clijsters had more opportunities. There's no way Clijsters would get away with losing six service-games to an on-form Maria, or on a faster surface with no wind.

Maria's ratio of winners to unforced errors was 18:34, while Clijsters was actually much worse with a W:UE ratio of 10:30.

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Yahoo! Sports report (abridged)
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From corner to corner Kim Clijsters ran, sliding into the splits with a cheerleader's zeal as she retrieved shot after shot, keeping alive yet another rally - and her comeback.

To Sharapova's chagrin, her superior power was negated by Clijsters' exceptional mobility. More than once the No. 2-seeded Russian hit an apparent winner, only to have a scrambling Clijsters extend the point - and eventually win it.

In the category of don't-try-this-at-home are the splits that are a staple of her game, allowing her to stretch into the corners and yet reverse direction quickly. She used the maneuver on the first point, made an improbable retrieval and extended the rally to 10 strokes until Sharapova hit a shot wide.

"Those points maybe make your opponent think a little bit," Clijsters said.

On break point in the sixth game, she skidded into the left corner and then the right chasing balls and sent both back. Sharapova then hurried an overhead slam and pushed it wide to fall behind 4-2.

Clijsters' ability to improvise paid off again on a pivotal point in the second set. When Sharapova hit a slam, Clijsters managed to lob it back over her head and won the point for a 4-3 lead.

Clijsters played a shaky game serving for the match at 5-4 but earned another chance by breaking back. When Sharapova sent a return long on the third championship point, a teary-eyed Clijsters had another trophy for her rapidly expanding collection.

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Quotes
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Maria: "What Kim has done is so incredible after being out for so long. Not being able to play tennis again in your life is a scary thought, and I have a lot of respect for her for the way she has been able to fight back and to stay positive. She has a great personality and it's always great to have someone around like that, but she's also a great competitor.

"Obviously from today's performance, she's a top-five player at this point. You just have to expect that she's going to get every ball back. Running from corner to corner is like a piece of cake for her.

"The biggest surprise is it was her 14th straight match, and I didn't feel like she was physically fatigued. You could see her running after every ball. I'm not at the point where I can do that. She is a very strong girl and she can play all day out there.

"I'm not really disappointed; I think I've had a great week. After having such a terrible match at Indian Wells, I think I bounced back really well and I performed well and I fought out there, and I gave it all I got for this match.

"Unfortunately, you can't win every single match, and I hope that people respect that. So, one day, this is life; you're going to have good moments, you're going to have bad. That's the way life is."


Clijsters: "I think what I did really well today was be patient. Because in these [windy] conditions, it's very hard to play your own tennis and to play aggressively because with the wind, it's very hard. And on each side of the court you sort of have to produce different tactics and you have to adjust your game a little bit. I think I did that really well today.

"I was hoping to just win two or three matches at both events to get some match-rhythm. Even this one is even harder to believe [than Indian Wells]. I don't know what to say about all this. You can wake me up now. These last four weeks in America have been incredible. I'm just going to try to enjoy it as much as I can.

"Even after winning Indian Wells I came here and was really looking forward to coming here because I couldn't play here last year because I was injured. This whole trip has been so much fun. Just being able to be back on the court, but also off court, seeing all the girls again, seeing some guys back on tour. It's been great to see everyone as well.

"I was out for a year, and you realise how much you miss it. That's why I'm playing so well - I'm enjoying myself.

"Once you come out of the plaster, you think, `How am I ever going to play tennis again?' You have no more muscles there. You can't even move your fingers.

"I just feel it pulling a little bit. But my work is done here so now I can just look after this. And next couple of days when I go home, I'll go to the hospital, have another MRI just to make sure that everything's fine before I start practising on the clay."

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Fed Cup?
========

Maria doesn't plan to play another WTA tournament for four weeks, which is very sensible after what her coach Robert Lansdorp said about heavy schedules and burnout. It's not like Maria's been playing week-in week-out - a mistake that other young players such as Karina Habšudová, Jelena Dokic and Daniela Hantuchová have made in the past - but since she no longer loses before the semi-finals, that's a lot of matches for her frail, slender body to take.

But one issue facing Maria in that time is whether to play in the Russia v Italy Fed Cup tie on 23rd/24th April. I'm inclined to think that it would be better for Maria to save herself for the upcoming Grand Slams, and that Vera Zvonareva, Anastasia Myskina and Svetlana Kuznetsova should be more than a match for the likes of Francesca Schiavone, Tathiana Garbin and Silvia Farina Elia anyway. On the other hand, four weeks is quite a long time to go without any match-play.


Maria: "I don't know yet if I'm physically ready for, you know, for more matches at this point. I've been on the road for a while already, and I think after this tournament, you know, I'm just going to see how I feel, you know, if I'm physically - you know, I want to make sure I'm 100%. If I'm not, then there's no reason why I want to play."


Shamil Tarpishchev (Russian Fed Cup captain): "Maria received a firm offer to join our squad. It's basically very simple. She must say yes or no before 10th April when I will announce the team.

"There can be absolutely no question that Sharapova has been our best and most consistent player so far this year. If she commits herself to playing for Russia, we definitely have a great chance of defending our Fed Cup title."

--
Dr. Andrew Broad
http://www.geocities.com/andrewbroad/
http://www.geocities.com/andrewbroad/tennis/
http://www.geocities.com/andrewbroad/tennis/shara/

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/sizzlingsharapova/
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/jeldani/