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andrewbroad
Aug 8th, 2006, 02:17 AM
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ACURA CLASSIC 2006 (San Diego, California, USA; outdoor hard; WTA Tier I)
================== http://www.acuraclassic.com/ (http://www.acuraclassic.com/)

Maria won her 12th WTA Tour or Grand Slam singles-title, and she didn't drop a set all tournament! :worship:

The highlights for me were the resumption of tennis's most exciting rivalry - Maria v Vera Zvonarëva - and Maria's first-ever win over Kim Clijsters in the final!

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Photos
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http://news.search.yahoo.com/search/news/?c=news_photos&p=sharapova (http://news.search.yahoo.com/search/news/?c=news_photos&p=sharapova)
http://www.wtaworld.com/showthread.php?t=99305&page=439 (http://www.wtaworld.com/showthread.php?t=99305&page=439) (and onwards)
http://www.mariaworld.net/forum/viewtopic.php?t=477 (http://www.mariaworld.net/forum/viewtopic.php?t=477)

andrewb729's (not me!) photos (various players):
http://s74.photobucket.com/albums/i245/andrewb729/ (http://s74.photobucket.com/albums/i245/andrewb729/)
(click on "Acura 2006")

Search Getty Images for "sharapova"

Videos:
http://www.wtaworld.com/showthread.php?t=221386&page=73 (http://www.wtaworld.com/showthread.php?t=221386&page=73) (and onwards)

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Maria pre-tournament quotes
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"The past two weeks have been the first time that I've had full practice where I didn't need to see the trainer every day.

"The last time was Indian Wells, and that was a good week for me. I've been doing progressively better. I'm excited going into a tournament feeling healthy and playing pretty well.

"Physically I've improved a lot. If you look at my body-shape two years ago to now, I never felt like I was ready then. I feel a lot stronger, and I experienced a lot more.

"Then, I never had big injuries, and now I've learned to deal with the world expecting me to play when I've been injured.

[Re. her Wimbledon semi-final loss to Mauresmo]
"I tactically didn't play smart, especially in the third set when I had the momentum. I need to adjust to the situations better. Top players have plans in their pockets, and are not one-dimensional. When things were going my way, I stopped and I was brain-dead. But that's something that you learn, and hopefully the next time, it will naturally be there.

"I've done it before, and I've been consistently doing well, but it's a matter of doing it better."

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Second round (Tuesday 1st August)
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+ MARIA SHARAPOVA [2] d. Vasilisa Bardina [Q], 6-4 6-1

Michael F. Werner: "Lisa is a very fit, quick athlete, with sort of stiff tennis strokes. She puts her whole body into each stroke often making contact with both feet off the ground. But there isn't much free swinging of the arms from the shoulders. Instead she turns her whole upper body and arms together and flicks her wrists. Her backhand in particular looks more like a jab than a stroke."
<http://www.mfwweb.com/tennis/SD06/ (http://www.mfwweb.com/tennis/SD06/)>

www.wtatour.com (http://www.wtatour.com/): "Sharapova was one of eight seeds to receive a first round bye. She overcame a shaky start, but dominated the rest of the way to post a 64 61 victory. Her opponent, 18-year-old Vasilisa Bardina, raced to leads of 3-1 and 4-2 in the first set, but Sharapova found her game just in time to recover. The former world No.1 reeled off four straight games to win the first, and never looked back."

www.acuraclassic.com (http://www.acuraclassic.com/):
>>>
After having her serve broken in the third game of the match and falling behind, Sharapova came back from 2-4 to sweep the next four games to win the set in 45 minutes.

At 1-1 in the second set, Sharapova won 12 of the next 15 points and took a 4-1 lead. Bardina then took a medical time-out for treatment for a right shoulder strain.

Following the break, Sharapova broke Bardina for the fourth time in the match to increase her lead to 5-1.

Serving for a spot in the third round, Sharapova got to 30-30. She smacked a service winner to gain match point, and then hit a down the line forehand winner to end the match, which took one-hour and 29 minutes.
<<<


Maria quotes
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"I don't know anything about her except that every time I see her dad, he walks barefoot. I think that's cool.

"At the beginning, I felt tested. We had pretty long rallies. I don't think I served very well, and in the longer points I was forced to err. In that game where she broke me [in the first set], I didn't serve well. But after that, I made her play a little bit more. She wasn't serving as well, and I was able to step in and put pressure on her.

"I felt pretty good after she broke me early. I felt like I made her play a little bit after that, and when she was serving at 70 mph, I took advantage of that. I was moving well, seeing the ball well.

"Even when she broke me, I felt like I was moving well on court. It was just a matter of getting out there on the court and getting some match-play in.

"She pulled all the tricks out of her bag, except for the win."

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Third round (Thursday 3rd August)
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Two very nice players:
+ MARIA SHARAPOVA [2] d. Vera Zvonarëva, 6-4 6-4

This was the fifth Maria v Bepa match (or as I like to call it, the RadZvone series) - the first four took place in 2004, and with this win, Maria moves 3-2 ahead in their head-to-head. Maria v Bepa is always a mouthwatering match, as their styles of play complement each other wonderfully.

But this was their most one-sided match so far - possibly because Bepa has been bothered by a left-wrist injury since Cincinnati, with which she pulled out of the doubles after losing to Maria.

Judging by the photos, Maria also won the beauty-contest, which was a surprise to me because Bepa has looked extremely hot in recent weeks - and I'm not just talking about her tennis! ;)


The match was second on Center [sic], and started at 15:14 PDT. I followed live scores on the Internet; here are my notes as I wrote them at the time:

Although my love for Bepa has really grown this year, my loyalty is with Maria this time because I feel that she needs to win this match more than Bepa.

Bepa has been on fire in recent weeks, winning Birmingham, Wimbledon Mixed Doubles and Cincinnati, and losing only to Kim Clijsters in singles (three times).

Maria has been hampered by injuries over the last year; Indian Wells is her only title since Birmingham 2005. She should be winning Grand Slam singles-titles at this stage of her career, so losing in the third round of San Diego is not what we would want to see when she's preparing for the US Open!


First Set:
SHARAPOVA _* *@__*@* 6
ZVONARËVA * *__@*___ 4

Bepa serving 0-0: 0/15, 15/15, 40/15, 40/30, held.
Maria serving 0-1: 15/0, 15/15, 40/15, held.
Bepa serving 1-1: 0/15, 15/30, 30/30, 40/30, 40/40, ad Bepa, held.

We really have two of the greatest fighters of women's tennis out there today, Bepa doing well to come through that service-game.

Maria serving 1-2: held to love with an ace on the second point.

So far, Maria is holding serve much more easily than Bepa. But it should be a much tougher match than Nicole Vaidišová's rather straightforward 6-4 6-2 win over Daniela Hantuchová earlier today (all four players are members of my Eternal Fanship).

Bepa serving 2-2: 15/0, 15/15, 40/15 -> 40/40, ad Bepa, Deuce #2, ad Maria (BP), Deuce #3, ad Maria (BP #2), broken.

That's the difficulty of playing Maria Sharapova: she keeps pegging you back in a game, and then she strikes!

But this is by no means a decisive lead for Maria in this set. Bepa is such a fighter, and Maria hasn't been all that reliable at closing out leads in recent months - she lost sets from 5-1 up against Tatiana Golovin at Miami, and Dinara Safina at the French Open!

Maria serving 3-2: 0/30, 15/30, 15/40 (2 BPs), broken.
Bepa serving 3-3: 30/0, 30/15, 40/15, held.

Tremendous fightback by Bepa - this match certainly isn't for the faint-hearted Maria-fan!

Maria serving 3-4: 15/0, 15/30, 30/30, 40/30, held.

A very important hold for Maria. At 15/30 I sensed a break which would have left Bepa serving for the set, and I don't think Bepa is in the mood to blow a *5-3 lead on the form of recent weeks!

Bepa serving 4-4: 0/40 (3 BPs), long delay... broken.

A set full of twists and turns. Just when it felt like Bepa had the momentum and was about to take a decisive lead, it's Maria who does just that!

Maria serving for the first set at 5-4: 0/15, 15/15, 30/15, 30/30, 40/30 (SP #1). Double fault. 40/40, ad Maria (SP #2), Deuce #2, ad Bepa (BP), Deuce #3, ad Maria (SP #3), Deuce #4, ad Maria (SP #4), Deuce #5, ad Maria (SP #5), Maria won the first set 6-4 at 16:01 (47m).

Awesome resistance from Bepa! In my heart of hearts I wanted Maria to win that game and get the first set in the bag, but I could not have asked for a more thrilling ending, save perhaps a tiebreak.

I might not be able to watch this match, but I can imagine Maria saying a lot of "c'mon"s in that last game!


Second Set
SHARAPOVA @*@* *___* 6
ZVONARËVA ____* *@*_ 4

My loyalty switches to Bepa in this set, because RadZvone V deserves nothing less than to be a three-set thriller. For me it really is the apotheosis of tennis when these two play each other!

Bepa serving 0-0: 15/0, 15/30, 30/30, 30/40 (BP), broken. (The points Bepa won were aces!)

But Maria, of course, has other ideas - like all great champions, going for the jugular.

But Bepa has already broken the great Maria's serve once this match, so even at a set and a break up, Maria's victory is not guaranteed yet. I do hope Bepa won't just fade to a 4-6 2-6 loss as Daniela did against Nicole earlier.

Maria serving 0-1: 0/15, 40/15, 40/30, held.

No immediate break-back for Bepa this time, and not much room for her to play any more bad games either...

Bepa serving 0-2: 15/0, 15/15, 15/30, 30/30, 30/40 (BP), broken.

It's getting late early! :( Maria has converted break-points with deadly efficiency in this match: 4/5 (Bepa 1/2).

I watched Bepa recover from a set and two breaks down against Meilen Tu in the Birmingham 2006 semi-finals, but to do so against Maria is an entirely different proposition.

Maria serving 3-0: held to love.

Now Bepa needs to take a leaf out of Jamea Jackson's book: Bepa led Jackson 7-6 4-0 in the Birmingham final, but an amazing turnaround saw Bepa have to serve to stay in the second set at 4-5! And Jennifer Capriati won the Australian Open 2002 final from 4-6 0-4 down!

Bepa serving 0-4: 40/0, 40/15, held.
Maria serving 4-1: held to love.

The only precedent for Bepa escaping from this scoreline against Maria is the Miami 2006 semi-final, where Maria led 6-3 5-1, and Tatiana Golovin fought back to take the second set. It would take a combination of the brilliance of which I know Bepa is capable, and Maria going off the boil.

But Maria is very alert to such possibilities now, and mentally strong enough to use that to her advantage in terms of concentration (whereas most players get very nervous when they remember blowing a similar lead in the past).

Bepa serving to stay in the match at 1-5: 30/0, 30/15, 30/30, 40/30, held.
Maria serving for the match at 5-2: broken to love!

And it's happening! :) There's nothing more fascinating in tennis than when one player has a huge lead, but the other player is halfway towards levelling up, and suddenly has all the momentum in her favour. Who will prevail?

Bepa serving to stay in the match at 3-5: 30/0, 30/40 (MP #1), 40/40, ad Bepa, held.

Three games in a row for Bepa as she continues her brave fightback, fighting off one match-point in the process.

Maria serving for the match at 5-4: 30/0. Maria forehand winner down the line. 40/0 (3 MPs: MP #2). Bepa netted a forehand return. Maria won 6-4 6-4 at 16:40 (1h26m).

A simple-looking scoreline, but the sequence of games certainly wasn't simple! Maria will be feeling very relieved right now.

The right girl won, but as a Bepa-fan it leaves me wanting much more. If only she hadn't lost the first four games of the second set, things could have been very different...


Statistics
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Bepa served 4 aces and 1 double fault, Maria 3 double faults and 1 ace.

But Maria was better in all the service-percentages: 69% of first serves in (Bepa 65%), 68% of points won on first serve (Bepa 58%) and 61% on second serve (Bepa 43%).

From the first set to the second, Maria's percentage of first serves in deteriorated from 75% to 59%, but her percentage of points won on second serve improved from 44% to 78%.

Maria broke 4 times from 6 break-points, Bepa 2 from 3.

In points, Maria won 69-55 (first set 39-32, second set 30-23). So the first set was more troublesome for Maria than the second - contrary to what the media say.


Maria quotes
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"I knew she was playing good tennis again. Every time I play her, I usually expect {good tennis/a good test}, because I know how good and strong she can be.

"Coming into the match, I knew that it was going to be a tough one. I knew I needed to play solid and consistent, and be tough mentally throughout the whole match, because she had been playing some good tennis. Sometimes talk is cheap, so I wanted to make sure everything was going to go by plan.

[Re. Bepa's second-set fightback]
"I don't think I did too much wrong. Maybe I could have stepped in a little bit and came to the net on a few of those balls. She played some really good points. I was happy to be able to close it out with some good serves.

"It was about reacting to the situation, and seeing what she brought today, and what I needed to challenge her. From the beginning of the match, I felt I hung in there and was really patient. I played really solid, and I made her hit lots of balls. It was tough."


[Re. being the world's highest-earning female athlete]
"It's a cool fact. You see it and read it in a paper and say, 'Wow.' But I don't live my life by thinking of these facts. I don't live my life by seeing how many matches I won.

"When I was working my way to the top, I didn't say I wanted to be No. 2; I wanted to be No. 1 in the world.

"What tennis has brought me has been incredible. God gave me a talent, but it was also up to me to play my part in that. I don't believe you earn everything by talent. You have to work for everything you earn. The combination has definitely helped me.

"Tennis has brought a lot of opportunities to my career. I've been blessed when I was young. Playing tennis every day when I was young, I didn't know what would come with the sport, but everything has surprised me in my career, and everything has come with real excitement.

"At the end of the day, the thing that I get excited about is winning tough matches. That's what it's all about for me. As long as I have that feeling, I'm going to keep playing. When I don't have that inside of me, that's when I'll stop.

[Would you trade all your endorsements for another three Grand Slam titles?]
"Are you kidding me? Of course, because three titles would bring in a lot more than $25 million!

[Are you dating Andy Roddick?]
"I don't discuss my private life."

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Quarter-final (Friday 4th August)
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+ MARIA SHARAPOVA [2] d. MARY PIERCE [6], 6-2 6-3

Mary is an old favourite of mine: a blonde bombshell who hits her forehand quite possibly harder than any woman in tennis-history!

Mary was the defending champion here, but was playing her first tournament since Paris in February, due to a right-foot injury.

www.acuraclassic.com (http://www.acuraclassic.com/): "Serving for the first set at 5-2, Sharapova fell behind, 15-30, but tied the game as she executed a backhand crosscourt winner to get to 30-30. Two points later, on set point, she crushed a high forehand volley to put the set away."


I followed live scores on the Internet - casually this time, as it seemed to be very straightforward until Maria led 6-2 *4-3, without having been broken in the match.

Maria serving 4-3: 0/30 -> 40/30, held.
Mary serving to stay in the match at 3-5: 30/0 -> 30/30, 40/30, 40/40, ad Maria (MP #1), Maria won 6-2 6-3 at 15:28 (1h09m).

The last two games are typical of the way Maria pegs you back in a game, and then strikes!

Maria served 8 aces in this match.


Maria quotes
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"I thought I played solid. First set, I got up a break, and felt I was returning really well. After that first break in the second set, I felt pretty much in control.

"But she's always dangerous, just because she has all the experience behind her. She's a pretty big hitter. Obviously, she has not played a lot, but you really can't worry about that, because she can swing freely and hit some big shots.

"You don't know how you are going to play after a long break, and I played three opponents with three different games, and I've come out and feeling solid and healthy.

"I've been working on things, like coming in and seeing those opportunities. I've been stupid the last few times, so I'm learning my lesson. No matter how good or bad I feel, I still need to go into net."


Mary quotes
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"It was encouraging. It didn't feel too bad. I'm very confident that within a couple of weeks, I'll be feeling pretty good about myself and my game. It would have been nice, of course, to defend my title and win here again, but I did my best.

"My legs have been getting more sore every day."

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Semi-final (Saturday 5th August)
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+ MARIA SHARAPOVA [2] d. PATTY SCHNYDER [5], 7-5 6-4

Schnyder is a crafty left-handed spin-artist, who can be very awkward to play against. Maria always wins the first set against her, but had dropped the second in all four of their previous meetings, actually losing to her in the Rome 2005 semi-finals (which would have made Maria the fourth-youngest world #1 in the history of the WTA Rankings, had she won).

Matthew Cronin (Reuters):
>>>
Sharapova moved well, played consistent tennis, and served superbly to reach her first WTA Tour final since March...

The two fought tooth and nail from inside the baseline, with Schnyder trying to keep Sharapova off her back by mixing heavy topspin forehands and sharp two-hand backhands.

Sharapova played patiently, and carefully waited for her opportunities to attack.

Sharapova broke Schnyder to 6-5 in the first set when she laced a forehand down the line winner, and won the set with a brilliant seeing-eye forehand swing volley.

The 19-year-old Russian immediately broke the Swiss to open the second set with a quick-footed inside-out forehand return-of-service winner, and broke her again to 4-1 when Schnyder erred on a backhand.

The experienced Swiss came storming back, however, breaking Sharapova to 3-5 with a forehand winner down the line.

Schnyder held to 5-4, but in the final game Sharapova served big, and won a long rally to clinch victory when she forced the Swiss into a forehand error.
<<<

www.acuraclassic.com (http://www.acuraclassic.com/):
>>>
After Schnyder held serve by firing an ace on game point, Sharapova served for the match at 5-2. It seemed like the match was as good as over as Sharapova had not lost serve all afternoon.

That was until Sharapova missed three forehands to fall behind 0-40. The 19-year-old Russian won the next two points to get to 30-40, but Schnyder secured her only service break of the match when she hit a forehand down the line winner.

Schnyder, who had only 13 unforced errors in the match, easily held in the next game as she hit a service winner on game point to make the score 5-4 in Sharapova's favour.

Serving for the match a second time, Sharapova began the game by hitting a backhand error. She recovered and moments later reached her first match point.

The match, which took one-hour and 39 minutes, ended when Schnyder's slice backhand down the line landed wide.
<<<

I followed live scores on the Internet casually. It was first on Center [sic], and started at 13:10 PDT.


First Set:
SHARAPOV _* * * * *@* 7
SCHNYDER * * * * *___ 5

With Schnyder serving first, the first nine games of the match were completely serve-dominated, with no break-points either way.

Maria serving to stay in the first set at 4-5: 0/30 -> 40/30, held.
Schnyder serving 5-5: 15/0, 15/30, 30/30, 30/40 (BP), broken.
Maria serving for the first set at 6-5: 30/0 -> 30/30, 40/30 (SP #1), Maria won the first set 7-5 at 13:53 PDT (43m).


Second Set:
SHARAPOV @* *@*___* 6
SCHNYDER __*___*@*_ 4

Maria broke to 30 in the opening game.

Maria serving 1-0: 30/0 -> 30/40 (BP), 40/40, ad Schnyder (BP #2), Deuce #2, ad Schnyder (BP #3), Deuce #3, ad Maria, Deuce #4, ad Maria, Deuce #5, ad Maria, Deuce #6, ad Maria, Deuce #7, ad Schnyder (BP #4), Deuce #8, ad Schnyder (BP #5), Deuce #9, ad Maria, held.

An important hold for Maria - so good at saving break-points. She does not want to lose her break, because she had to wait a long time to break Schnyder's serve in the first set. I can imagine that the grunting would have been very loud in that game!

Maria has now won five games in a row.

Schnyder serving 0-2: 15/0, 15/30, 40/30, held.

Schnyder serving 1-3: 15/15, 15/40 (2 BPs) -> 40/40, ad Schnyder, Deuce #2, ad Maria (BP #3), broken.
Maria serving 4-1: 30/0. Double fault. 30/15 -> 30/40 (BP), 40/40, ad Maria, held.

Phew! My memory was going back to when Maria got very nervous trying to close out her Birmingham 2004 semi-final against Schnyder (served for it at 6-1 6-5, but lost the second on a tiebreak), not to mention their Rome 2005 semi-final where Maria, with her first chance to become world #1, panicked at a set up and actually lost.

Schnyder serving to stay in the match at 1-5: 30/0, 30/15, 40/15, 40/30, held.
Maria serving for the match at 5-2: 0/40 (3 BPs), 30/40, broken.

Yes, definitely a bit of panic. At least Maria has the insurance of a second break in the bag, but she's already lost two sets from 5-1 up this year (against Tatiana Golovin at Miami, and Dinara Safina at the French Open), and was wobbling at 6-4 5-1 against Vera Zvonarëva two rounds ago.

Schnyder serving to stay in the match at 3-5: 15/0, 15/15, 30/15, held.
Maria serving for the match at 5-4: 0/15, 30/15, 30/30, 40/30 (MP #1), Maria won 7-5 6-4 at 14:49 (1h39m).

It's a huge relief that she converted that match-point. I wonder how differently things would have turned out if that long game at 1-0 had gone to Schnyder?

The big difference in this match was that Maria converted 3 of 6 break-points, while Schnyder had 9 break-points (all in the second set) but only converted one (the first time Maria served for the match).


Maria quotes
------------

{before the match}

"That's another tricky one. The direction of her spin takes a while to get used to."


{after the match}

"The best thing I did in that game was serve. I think I served smart. I mixed it up well. She was guessing. She didn't quite know where I was going to serve. That was probably the greatest thing about my serving. I was consistently smart. I mixed up it up good, and mixed up the pace good.

"She missed three backhand returns on break-points.

"Against her, you have to be patient. She makes you go for winners, and in some games I went for a little too much, but other than that, I made her move, played smart, and when I got my opportunities, I took them.

"I'm proud that I haven't been playing for a while, and I play solid against players that have been having pretty good results the past few weeks. I just come out and step up to the challenge of what's in front of me.

"My mind and body are becoming one piece."


Schnyder quotes
---------------

{before the match}

"She is mentally so tough, she can focus on each point and come up with the big shots on the big points. It's a tough one. I have to make her run and move, and mix it up again. I know I have a chance."


{after the match}

"I didn't do too well at the beginning; she won her serve too easily. She has a huge serve. On each and every point, she's like 100% concentrated and focused. She really never gives you room to breathe. She hits a lot of winners, and is just a really complete player.

"She feels comfortable moving on hard courts. She's a tall girl who has a lot of reach. Her serves were very accurate, and she varies the height of the bounce, which made it hard for me to get a rhythm, especially on the backhand side."

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Final (Sunday 6th August)
-----

+ MARIA SHARAPOVA [2] d. KIM CLIJSTERS [1], 7-5 7-5

There wasn't much reason for optimism going into this match. Maria had a 0-4 head-to-head record against Clijsters, who was also on a 24-match winning-streak in North American summer hardcourt tournaments (which is a ridiculous statistic really, because since losing to Peng,Shuai here last year, she has suffered hard-court losses at Filderstadt, the WTA Tour Championships, the Australian Open and Miami).


www.wtatour.com (http://www.wtatour.com/): "Sharapova was the first to draw blood in the first set, breaking for a 5-3 lead and reaching set point. In what was arguably the point of the tournament, the pair ran each other ragged before Clijsters prevailed with a Sharapova forehand into the net."

Associated Press:
>>>
Sharapova, the 2004 Wimbledon champion, and Clijsters played one incredibly long point with Sharapova serving for the first set at 5-3. The point featured a number of outstanding shots and saves on both sides before Sharapova drove a forehand into the net. The crowd erupted into a prolonged standing ovation as both players struggled to catch their breath.

The top-seeded Clijsters, who previously announced her plans to retire at the end of the 2007 season, was still hampered by a bad back in the final. Clijsters, ranked No. 2, began to consistently miss her shots as the second set wore on.

Sharapova, who failed to serve at the level she did in her semifinal-round win over Patty Schnyder, broke through in the 12th game of the second set with the only service break for either player in the second set to end the 1-hour, 48-minute match.
<<<

Matthew Cronin (Reuters):
>>>
The Belgian fought off her first set point at 3-5 in a marathon rally that saw her paste a forehand crosscourt winner.

Clijsters scrapped back to 5-5, but could not maintain her momentum as Sharapova easily held to 6-5, and then broke the Belgian to win the set when the world number two committed a forehand error.

Both women stepped up their level in the second set, but Clijsters could never find the rhythm that led her to the Stanford title last week.

Sharapova easily held to lead 6-5 before Clijsters completely lost her way, committing a slew of errors to face three match points.

Sharapova missed a backhand return on the first one, but on the second, she gunned a backhand that kissed the baseline.
<<<

www.acuraclassic.com (http://www.acuraclassic.com/):
>>>
Second-seeded Maria Sharapova, playing a patient, but aggressive baseline game, defeated top-seeded Kim Clijsters of Belgium, 7-5, 7-5, at the La Costa Resort and Spa to win the 2006 Acura Classic singles title.

The Russian opened the match with a double fault but went on to hold serve. Neither player was able to hold serve as there were four straight service breaks.

Clijsters finally held to tie the set a 3-3. After Sharapova held serve to take a 4-3 lead, the Belgian lost her serve again as she threw in a couple of double faults to fall behind 5-3.

Sharapova served for the set at 5-3. At ad-in and set point for Sharapova, the point of the tournament was played as each player made spectacular saves during a long baseline rally. With both players gasping for breath, Clijsters won the point as Sharapova netted a forehand. The crowd erupted and gave both players a standing ovation.

Clijsters went on to break serve and hold on the next game to tie the set at 5-5. She later served to stay in the set at 5-6 but on the second break point of the game, the Belgian netted a crosscourt forehand in the net as Sharapova wrapped up the first set, 7-5.

In the second set, Clijsters' serve picked up as she lost only four points in her first five service games. However, Sharapova gamely fought off all five break points against her own serve in the set and took a 6-5 lead.

Clijsters served to stay in the match at 6-5 and fell behind 0-30 as she hit a forehand long. With fans cheering her to extend the set, she fell behind 0-40 as her backhand sailed long, giving Sharapova three championship points.

On her first championship point Sharapova netted a backhand service return to make the score 15-40.

The match, which took one hour and 48 minutes, would end on the next point as Sharapova's strong forehand service return down the middle of the court caused Clijsters to hit her forehand long.
<<<

The match started at 14:07 PDT, which is a bit early for an advertised start-time of 14:00 once they've come onto court and completed their warm-up!

I followed live scores on the Internet; here are my comments as I wrote them at the time:


First Set:
SHARAPOVA *@ @__*@__*@ 7
CLIJSTERS __@ @*__@*__ 5

Maria serving 0-0: Double fault. 0/15, 0/30 -> 40/30, held.

Well recovered! I recall from following live scores of their US Open 2005 semi-final that it was an ugly match of break and counterbreak (especially in the first set), so it's vital that Maria holds serve reliably from the outset.

Clijsters serving 0-1: 0/15, 15/15, 15/30, 30/30, 30/40 (BP). Double fault.

Wow! Maybe today's the day for Maria to get her first-ever win over Clijsters!

Maria serving 2-0: 0/40 (3 BPs), 15/40, broken on a double fault.

But now it's starting to follow the pattern of that US Open semi-final. :(

Clijsters serving 2-1: 15/0, 15/30, 30/30, 30/40 (BP), broken.

YES!! Now hold, Maria - hold for dear life!

Maria serving 3-1: 0/30, 15/30, 15/40 (2 BPs), broken on a double fault.

Maria's been 0/30 in all three of her service-games so far, and finished the last two with double faults! :( I guess she must have a mental block over serving to Clijsters, because she doesn't do this against any other player.

Clijsters serving 2-3: 40/0, 40/15, held.

It looks like Clijsters has played her serve in; Maria had better quickly do likewise, or this could get very embarrassing! :o

Maria serving 3-3: 15/0, 15/15, 30/15, 30/40 (BP), 40/40, ad Maria, held.

Phew! Clijsters is giving Maria a taste of the medicine that Maria so often gives other players: pegging back her leads in a game. That's how it was in their Miami 2005 final - so many times Maria was dragged back from 40/15 to 40/40.

Technically Maria may be 4-3* ahead, but I think psychologically she's actually behind (well, at least [i]I'm feeling down at this point), because she had a *3-1 lead, but has had her serve - her biggest weapon - broken twice.

Clijsters serving 3-4: 15/0, 15/15, 15/30, 30/30, 30/40 (BP), broken.
Maria serving for the first set at 5-3: 0/15, 15/15, 15/40 (2 BPs) -> 40/40, ad Maria (SP #1), Deuce #2, ad Clijsters (BP #3), broken.

Against the resistance of Clijsters, every single point is more important than the scoreline implies. I felt so desperate for Maria to convert that set-point, and the memory of that failure could have a lasting effect on Maria as she tries to close out this set. The same thing happened to Nicole Vaidišová against Clijsters at Stanford last week.

Clijsters serving to stay in the first set at 4-5: 0/30 -> 40/30, held.

My hopes were raised when the scoreboard said "First serve fault" at 0/30, but if you give Clijsters a little finger, she takes a whole hand.

Maria serving 5-5: 0/15, 40/15, 40/30, held.

Phew! Maria missed her first serve at 40/15, and my heart sank when it became 40/30. But at least we haven't had any 40/15 -> 40/40 transitions against Maria today.

Clijsters serving to stay in the first set at 5-6: 0/15, 30/15, 30/30, 30/40 (SP #2), 40/40, ad Clijsters, Deuce #2, ad Maria (SP #3). Clijsters netted a forehand. Maria won the first set 7-5 at 15:02 (55m).

YES!!! <clap clap clap>

With all the recoveries that Clijsters made - and threatened to make - in that set, it would have been very bitter for Maria to lose it on a tiebreak. Not so much for Clijsters, because she never led in the games-score of that set, so she won't be saddled with that "should have" feeling as Maria would have been.

Maria lost the first set in all their previous meetings, so I'm optimistic that we'll see the correct winner today.


Second Set:
SHARAPOVA * * * * * *@ 7
CLIJSTERS _* * * * *__ 5

Maria serving 0-0: 15/0, 15/15, 15/30, 30/30, 30/40 (BP), 40/40, ad Maria, held.

I must confess I relaxed a bit after such a mentally-testing first set - it's a good job that Maria at least was vigilant! She didn't get her first serve in on the break-point, but still managed to deny Clijsters her first lead in the games-score of this match.

I feel about five times more confident of Maria winning this match than I did in the first set.

Clijsters has complained of tiredness and a sore back this week, so although her physical condition has been superior to Maria's (not in aesthetic terms!) in their previous meetings, I think it would be a tall order for Clijsters to come back and win in three today - against a player as motivated, mentally strong, and of course talented as Maria.

Clijsters serving 0-1: 15/15, 40/15, held.
Maria serving 1-1: held to love.
Clijsters serving 1-2: held to love.
Maria serving 2-2: 40/0, 40/15, held.
Clijsters serving 2-3: 0/15, 40/15, held.

Now they have both settled into a serve-dominated pattern (in contrast to the first set), and I'm not going to overanalyse Maria's failure to convert a 0/15 lead on Clijsters' serve.

Maria serving 3-3: 0/40 (3 BPs) -> 40/40, ad Maria, held.

Good girl! Maria is so good at saving break-points, but to recover from 0/40 against Clijsters is exceptional.

I do feel that Maria could have recovered from that break with the first set in the bag, but Clijsters, who is hardly the mentally strongest of players herself (especially when it comes to playing Justine Henin-Hardenne), must be feeling that it's just not her day after missing an opportunity like that.

Clijsters serving 3-4: 40/0, 40/15, held.

The bad news is that Maria has only won three points on Clijsters' serve in this set, whilst having to save four break-points on her own serve.

It's usually the player who's holding serve more easily who breaks first. If a player is going to react to squandering break-points by playing a bad service-game of her own, it's going to happen in the next game - which it hasn't to Clijsters so far in this set.

Maria serving 4-4: 15/0, 15/15, 30/15, 30/30, 40/30, 40/40, ad Maria, Deuce #2, ad Clijsters (BP), Deuce #3, ad Clijsters (BP #2), Deuce #4, ad Maria, held.

Phew! Clijsters is 0/6 on break-points this set, without having to face one herself.

But Maria has the advantage of serving first, and this is where it really comes into play. The worst way for Maria to lose this set would be on a tiebreak, so that she'd be serving second in the third set.

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

And still Maria has won only four points on Clijsters' serve in this set. If Clijsters is tired today, she'll certainly be grateful for these short games on her own serve.

Maria serving 5-5: 15/0, 15/15, 40/15, held.
Clijsters serving to stay in the match at 5-6: 0/40 (3 CPs), 15/40. Clijsters forehand long. Maria won 7-5 7-5 at 15:56 (1h48m).


Statistics
----------

Maria got 68% of first serves in, winning 65% of the points when she did so, and 44% on second serve (Clijsters 63%, 60% and 52%).

While Maria's percentage of first serves in dropped from 73% to 64% from the first set to the second, all their service winning-percentages improved:
- Maria's % of points won on first serve: 59% -> 71%
- Maria's % of points won on second serve: 18% -> 63%
- Clijsters' % of points won on first serve: 52% -> 72%
- Clijsters' % of points won on second serve: 36% -> 73%

They served 3 aces each (all on first serves). Maria served 5 double faults (4 in the first set, two of them on break-points), Clijsters 4 (all in the first set).

Maria did an excellent job of saving break-points, but there was an alarming number of them against her, and if Clijsters had done better than 3/13 (3/7 in the first set), it might have been a very different story.

Maria broke 5 times from 8 break-points (first set 4/5, second set 1/3).

In points, Maria won 78-74 (first set 40-39, second set 38-35).


Maria quotes
------------

{before the match}

"I don't think my record against Kim is really good, so I'd definitely like to get a win on her. We've always had pretty good matches, and she's playing good tennis. She's been playing some pretty intense tennis recently. It should be a great final.

"She not only gets a lot of balls back, they have a lot of juice on them. I need to take certain things away from her, but still play my game, and not try to play anything extra special."


{after the match}

"Coming into the match, I knew that I had to be physically and mentally ready, or I was going down. So it was up to me to follow through with those sayings. I'm really happy that I came back and won that first tournament, and got a win against someone whom I never beat in competition.

"It was just my day. I had lost to her four times in a row, so I thought this might be my lucky one. It's amazing to get the title.

"Against her, you know you have to be patient. She gets to a lot of balls, and comes up with greats shots defensively. I tried to take that away from her.

"There's not a lot of things not to like about my game. I played a pretty solid five players, and came out with two-set wins in each one. It gives me confidence; I feel I'm match-tough again.


"Basically, we were breaking each other in the first few games, then we had some really long points.

[Re. that amazing set-point at 5-3 in the first]
"I can't talk about it! I get dizzy thinking about it. It was basically survival.

"I hung in there during some amazing points in the second set.

"To beat a player that's been in the top, that's been playing really well this year, and that's No. 2 in the world, is a great achievement, but I've got to move on. This is my work to the US Open. I have another task ahead of me.

"I played a great, solid week of tennis. I still have two more tournaments before the Open, and I'm feeling healthy. That's important.

"I can't say, 'Wow, I just beat Kim and that's where it all ends.' Winning is great. But at the end of the day, I have a broad perspective on life, and it's not about winning or losing. Of course I'm happy, but I'm not going to jump up and down on the table because I'm happy, just as I would not be crying if I had lost.

"We were talking about this yesterday. When the match was over, I said I just wanted to go home. Someone said, 'You're going to get home and you're going to think it's just another training week.' I said, 'I don't care.'

"I love competing. I love going out there. I love those tight moments. I love competing in them. No matter how big or small the stadium is, no matter what the circumstances are, no matter if we're in Australia or somewhere in the Middle East or somewhere here, I'm excited to go out and perform and do my job and hopefully do it well.

"It's amazing to get a title, and I have a few more tournaments coming up. Going into the US Open is really exciting, to finally have a few matches under my belt, and hopefully be healthy in one of the biggest Grand Slam tournaments of the world."


Clijsters quotes
----------------

{before the match}

"To have my serve there, it's very important against Maria. She's definitely not going to miss as many returns as Vaidišová did today. I have to make sure to hit a lot of first serves."


{after the match}
"It was tough out there. I fought. I tried to go for everything when I was down, but it was not good enough. I was off today.

"After some long points, it was hard to refocus for the next shot. I didn't feel my freshest out there, but I tried today the best that I could. I fought and that's the only thing you can do with the way that you feel that day. I still feel it. I was too tired to keep my eyes open.

"Another final, especially having such a close match, you always want to go out and finish it. But I did better then last year. That's way I prefer to look at it.

"I think she made a few good first serves. On a couple of second serves, I missed. I tried to go for it a little bit too soon.

"What I noticed was that she wasn't going for her shots as much. That's where she's improved. In the past, when her game wasn't on, she was still trying to go for it. She wouldn't change. I felt like today, she would mix it up a little bit more. She would go for the shorter angles a little bit more, sometimes put a higher ball in there. It's great to see a player grow up - not just off the court, but on the court as well.

"It doesn't matter if you're up or down against her, you're not going to get anything for free."


My reaction
-----------

I'm just over the moon, obviously: firstly that she got her first win over Clijsters in five meetings, and secondly, the title!

Maria was winning titles so regularly up to February 2005, but the gaps between them have become very long for a player of her calibre: June 2005... March 2006... August 2006. At least she now seems to be injury-free again at last. :D

This is her 12th singles-title in the oft-cited 'WTA + Grand Slams' category:

.1. Japan Open (Tokyo), WTA Tier III, 5th October 2003
.2. Bell Challenge (Québec City), WTA Tier III, 2nd November 2003
.3. DFS Classic (Birmingham), WTA Tier III, 13th June 2004
.4. WIMBLEDON, Grand Slam, 3rd July 2004
.5. Hansol Korea Open (Seoul), WTA Tier IV, 3rd October 2004
.6. AIG Japan Open (Tokyo), WTA Tier III, 9th October 2004
.7. WTA Tour Championships (Los Angeles), 15th November 2004
.8. Toray Pan Pacific Open (Tokyo), WTA Tier I, 6th February 2005
.9. Qatar Total Open (Doha), WTA Tier II, 26th February 2005
10. DFS Classic (Birmingham), WTA Tier III, 12th June 2005
11. Pacific Life Open (Indian Wells), WTA Tier I, 18th March 2006
12. Acura Classic (San Diego), WTA Tier I, 6th August 2006

-----------
UK TV-alert
-----------

Look out for next week's Transworld Sport! It usually shows a few points from the previous week's WTA Tier I/II final.

In the UK, Transworld Sport will be televised on Sunday 13th August at 07:00 - 07:55 BST, on Channel 4.

--
Dr. Andrew Broad
http://geocities.com/andrewbroad/ (http://geocities.com/andrewbroad/)
http://geocities.com/andrewbroad/tennis/ (http://geocities.com/andrewbroad/tennis/)
http://geocities.com/andrewbroad/tennis/shara/ (http://geocities.com/andrewbroad/tennis/shara/) (+1 external link)

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

Maria Croft
Aug 8th, 2006, 08:47 AM
Very good review again, but I have to make a small correction on the whole #1 deal. She had to win Rome to get to number 1, not just beat Schnyder in the semi final.

andrewbroad
Aug 9th, 2006, 12:26 PM
Very good review again, but I have to make a small correction on the whole #1 deal. She had to win Rome to get to number 1, not just beat Schnyder in the semi final.

No, she just had to reach the final: click here (http://www.wtaworld.com/showthread.php?t=166826) for proof.

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

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

msharafan
Aug 9th, 2006, 12:29 PM
thanks andrew great report! :)

Doc
Aug 9th, 2006, 12:59 PM
Thanx

Maria Croft
Aug 9th, 2006, 02:36 PM
No, she just had to reach the final: click here (http://www.wtaworld.com/showthread.php?t=166826) for proof.

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

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

oh right, I forgot about that whole Davenport thingy, but I do remember that she had to win the tourny at some point, before it was known that Davenport wouldn't defend her points.

Porcupine
Aug 10th, 2006, 02:29 AM
Thanks Andrew