MIAMI, FL, USA - With the incredible form she went in on - 10 straight matches, 20 straight sets - any player would have been in trouble against Maria Sharapova on Thursday. And the Russian continued that trend, storming past Jelena Jankovic and into her fifth career final at the Sony Open Tennis.
Since the start of the spring US swing Sharapova has looked unstoppable, winning the Indian Wells title without losing a set and doing the same in her first four rounds in Miami - never before had she won that many sets in a row, and from the get-go against Jankovic there were warning signs that form would continue, as she won the first 10 points of the match before finally letting a forehand sail long.
But the downswing didn't last long as the No.3-seeded Sharapova proceeded to cruise past the No.22-seeded Jankovic in just an hour and three minutes, 62 61, firing 18 winners to just 11 unforced errors and winning more than twice as many points in the match as her fellow former No.1, 59 to 29.
"It was important for me to be there physically and mentally because I didn't feel I played my best tennis yesterday," Sharapova commented. "It was really important to go out, change a few things and just have a better mentality, be a bit more positive, and I felt like I did a few things better today.
"That's why the result was a shorter one."
Sharapova has now beaten Jankovic in seven of their eight career meetings. "I hadn't played Jelena in almost two years, but we had played many times before that, including in the juniors," she said. "We know each other's games very well and there aren't many secrets out there about what we do well and how we play. Today I knew I had to emphasize the things that have helped me beat her in the past."
Sharapova, who has now won 11 matches and 22 sets in a row, reached her fifth final at the Sony Open Tennis, but has gone 0-4 in her first four finals, finishing runner-up in 2005 (to Kim Clijsters), 2006 (to Svetlana Kuznetsova), 2011 (to Victoria Azarenka) and 2012 (to Agnieszka Radwanska).
"Well, it's another final," Sharapova said. "It's great to be putting myself in a position at this tournament to get into finals. I don't know who has been in five finals of this event in the women's draw. I haven't won this title yet though, so it would mean a lot for me to be the champion here this year."
The Russian is also a win away from becoming just the third player ever to pull off the Indian Wells-Miami double, following Steffi Graf (who did it in 1994 and 1996) and Clijsters (who did it in 2005).
"It would be nice, but winning a title on its own, whether it's here or Indian Wells, is a really great achievement," Sharapova said of the Indian Wells-Miami double crown. "To be able to come back from winning there, then to recover in just a few days and come back to the final here is great for me.
"Many years ago I wouldn't be able to do this physically, so I'm proud of how I've recovered. I'm still young, but I'm not 18 anymore. I've learned recovery is as important and even more important now in my career than anything else. It has helped me so much, even on the clay courts, and in situations like this where you have to recover and play matches and recover and just get ready again and again."
Jankovic, who had won nine of her last 10 matches going into the semifinal, was gracious in defeat.
"Maria played really well today," she said. "She was playing her best tennis from the start. But I think the opponent plays as much as you give her, and from my part, I didn't do my job. I didn't do what I was supposed to do. I wasn't on top of my game, and I wasn't playing the way I wanted to, especially on a big occasion like the semifinals here. But all the credit to Maria. She was the better one today."