ISTANBUL, Turkey - Maria Sharapova wrapped up the winners on Day 1 of the TEB BNP Paribas WTA Championships - Istanbul 2012, and it was déjà vu - in a repeat of the French Open final, she beat Sara Errani, 63 62.
That final in Paris was their only previous meeting and this time Sharapova won by the same scoreline, and for a while it was like a clay court match, too - the first four games lasted nearly half an hour. But from 2-all in the first set Sharapova upped the aggression and took complete control, hitting her big serve and even bigger groundstrokes to perfection to win 10 of the next 13 games - she ended the round robin encounter on a huge inside out forehand winner.
"It was a slow start - I gave Sara a lot of time, and that's what she likes," Sharapova said. "Her variety is what has won her so many matches this year. She loves to open the angles. I think the points were going a bit too long - I just tried to step in and be more aggressive after that, and it really helped me."
Sharapova finished the match with twice as many unforced errors as Errani (26 to 13) but had six and a half times as many winners as the Italian (39 to 6).
Sharapova was told 22 of those winners were off the forehand wing. "I wasn't counting them, but I guess it's a good number to have!" she said. "I don't think I did that in the first four, five games - as the match went on I certainly didn't want points going way too long against her. I wanted to be the more aggressive one."
This is the second year the WTA Championships have been held in Istanbul, and the first time wasn't such a good memory for Sharapova - having come in on the heels of an ankle injury lay-off, she dropped her first two matches then withdrew from the tournament. Tuesday was a much better feeling, of course.
"This is such a great feeling, not only to make it here but to feel good physically," the World No.2 said. "When you're out here and feeling good it's such a big motivation, and it's the last tournament of the year too, so while I'm going to enjoy some time off after this, right now it's all business."
Sharapova has a shot at finishing the year No.1, but not only does she need to win the title with at least two round robin wins, she needs Victoria Azarenka to win a maximum of one round robin match (and not make it past the semis).
The No.7-ranked Errani fell to 0-22 against Top 5 players, her two best wins coming against No.6s, both this year - Sam Stosur in the semifinals of the French Open and Angelique Kerber in the fourth round of the US Open.
"Of course there's a bit of tension when you're playing the Masters for the first time, but I was okay, I was good," Errani commented. "I played a good match - the first four or five games were so long - and I'm happy with how I played, but she was playing very strong and deep today. She was very tough."