Sharapova Wins First Clay Court Title
Published April 13, 2008 12:00
AMELIA ISLAND, FL, USA - It was by no means easy, but Maria Sharapova defeated first-time Sony Ericsson WTA Tour finalist Dominika Cibulkova in straight sets Sunday for her third title of the year, and the first of her celebrated career on clay.
Prior to this week, Sharapova's best results on clay were three semifinals, at Rome in 2005 and at Istanbul and Roland Garros in 2007. This week she went all the way to the title, although in the early goings that seemed unlikely. After an easy opening match she struggled through consecutive three set marathons in her next two matches against Anabel Medina Garrigues and Alona Bondarenko; her three-hour, 27-minute win over Medina Garrigues, in which she rallied back from 3-0 down in the third, 76(3) 57 76(1), was the 12th-longest match in Tour history.
The tournament's top seed was given a reprieve in the semifinals after Lindsay Davenport contracted a viral illness, handing her a walkover, which could have helped her recharge for the final. Against Cibulkova she had openings to close the set out before overtime - going up 3-1 early on and even serving for it at 5-4 - but the feisty Slovak pushed the set to a tie-break then saved a pair of set points before succumbing. After going down an early break in the second, a rejuvenated Sharapova reeled off five of the last six games for a 76(7) 63 win.
"You obviously never know how you're going to feel and how things are going to turn out, so I feel pretty fortunate to win my first title on clay," Sharapova said. "I scrapped my way through those two early matches and played well today, and I'm leaving this tournament as the champion, which is exciting."
Sharapova now becomes the first player to win three titles on the Tour in 2008; she was in a five-way tie with two titles coming in with Justine Henin, Serena Williams, Flavia Pennetta and Davenport, following wins at the Australian Open and Doha earlier in the season.
"The town itself is very quaint and the stadium is smaller than the ones we're used to; the fans are really excited about watching tennis," Sharapova said on Amelia Island. "For tennis this is a big event, so it means a lot to me to win here. It has been a really fun week. I really felt at home here."
Cibulkova was playing her very first Tour final, her best previous result being a semifinal finish at Guangzhou last fall. She took out three seeds to reach the final, most notably No.2 seed Anna Chakvetadze in the third round - and that 62 36 61 win over current world No.7 Chakvetadze was her second career Top 10 win.
"I feel great; it's amazing," Cibulkova said on making the final. "I beat some great players this week and reached the final of Amelia Island - I still can't believe it. I'm really happy to have made the final and am proud of my week."
Other players making news this week included Karolina Sprem, who qualified for the main draw and made it all the way to the third round - beating world No.10 Daniela Hantuchova en route - in her first Tour event in nearly a year; French teenager Alizé Cornet, who reached the semifinals before losing a three set war of attrition to Cibulkova; and of course Davenport, seeded No.16 and a three-time champion here, who succumbed to the aforementioned illness.
"The Bausch & Lomb Championships has always been one of my favorites and I am so sorry to the fans and people involved in the tournament. In the 16 years I have played on the Tour I do not believe I have ever had to pull out due to sickness. I hope to get better quickly and look forward being back next year."
Following the singles, it was Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Vladimira Uhlirova's time to shine. The American-Czech duo captured the doubles crown with a commanding win over Victoria Azarenka and Elena Vesnina, 63 61. Mattek-Sands won her fourth Tour doubles title while Uhlirova got her second; it was their first together.