It has not been the easiest start to the season for Sharapova, with early exits at both the Australian Open and Indian Wells putting her place in the Top 10 under threat. However, since getting onto the clay, the Russian has looked transformed, and in Stuttgart picked up the 30th title of her career.
For someone who once so openly loathed the surface, Sharapova is now in possession of an enviable record on clay. In fact, since the 2011 French Open semifinals, the Russian has won 41 of 44 matches, only tasting defeat to Serena Williams in that time. Meeting her for a place in the semifinals in Madrid was her conqueror in Paris three years ago, Li Na.
The Turning Point
For the first hour or so on court, Li looked on course to repeat the trick, bossing the rallies and easing a set and a break ahead. However, as so often in the past, Sharapova refused to give in, and she was rewarded for her perseverance when she capitalized on a loose Li service game to break back.
Few, if any, on tour can match Sharapova's matchplay instincts, and sensing her moment she hit the front, pinching the set in the tie-break before surging into a 3-1 lead in the decider. Now in control, Sharapova was not about to loosen her grip on proceedings, confidently closing the match out, 2-6, 7-6(5), 6-3.
By The Numbers
In a match of fine margins - both players won 93 points - unsurprisingly, the outcome hinged on just a few moments. For Sharapova, these moments came at the end of the second and third sets, where on both occasions she found her best tennis to save multiple break points.