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Old Nov 16th, 2004, 05:04 PM   #54
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Sharapova Survives Odd Ending to Championships

Despite a 4-0 deficit in the final set, Maria Sharpova rallies to defeat Serena Williams and win WTA Tour Championships presented by Porsche.

LOS ANGELES - For those watching the final set of singles tennis played at the WTA Tour Championships presented by Porsche on Monday evening, the scoreline may have been a bit confusing.

Serena Williams, clearly hobbled by an abdominal injury that limited her serving ability, had somehow managed to take a 4-0 lead in the decisive set.

After losing the first set, Sharapova had crept back into the STAPLES Center by rattling off five straight games in the second to even the match at a set apiece, but all that effort seemed to be going to waste and the Russian teenager's chances looked to be trickling away.

Williams' lead seemed to baffle many in attendance, including Sharapova. Her normal 100-plus mph first serves had dwindled down in the 80s and some even in the 70s due to the pain she was feeling in her stomach.

But Williams still had one tool in her utility belt that was proving must useful - some punishing groundstrokes that limited Sharapova's ability to keep the ball in bounds.

"I think she figured that she can't really do anything from her serve," Sharapova said. "So she's got to hit everything as hard as she could. And that is exactly what she did. And there is not too much I could do. She was hitting the ball as hard as she could. And everything was going in."

After building a 3-0 lead, the American then used a pair of off-pace, but well-placed aces to help her grab a fourth straight game to start the decisive set, while Sharapova finally got on the board in the next game, but still trailed 4-1.

Sharapova then collected her first break of the final set to move within 4-2 and appeared to be slowly taking the momentum of the match back into her corner, holding serve once more for 4-3.

To Sharapova's advantage, Williams first serves then crept into the lower 70s and three double faults gave the Russian another break to even the set at 4-4. Sharapova followed by holding serve for her fifth straight game in the match, taking a 5-4 lead. Williams was then unable to capitalize on her final service attempt as Sharapova dropped to her knees following the final point of the match.

In her first trip to the Championships, Sharapova had walked away with the title. She had overcome a large hole in the final set to defeat a former world No.1 to claim one of the sport's top prizes.

4-6, 6-2, 6-4.

"I don't think I could have asked for anything better this year," Sharapova said. "And to finish it off just beating players that are the best in the world, I am really sort of speechless because I have had an amazing year. I have accomplished so much."

After the match, Williams said she felt a pain in her stomach during the first game of the match. As the match progressed - and especially after dropping the second set - Williams said she knew she had to put everything she had left into her shots.

"I just started hitting every ball as hard as I could," Williams said. "And I think I lived off of her mistakes. Once she stopped making them, she was able to come back and win the match. I don't know how I was able to stay out there."

Sharapova's victory was just the second time in 34 matches this year that a player has defeated Williams after losing the first set. The match was the first time the two players had met since Sharapova's stunning 61 64 victory against Williams in the Wimbledon final.
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