STUTTGART, Germany - Her huge serve and groundstrokes hitting their mark time and time again, Maria Sharapova was in vintage form in the final of the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix, finally breaking her finals jinx against World No.1 Victoria Azarenka and capturing her 25th WTA title with a 61 64 victory.
From an absolutely packed field that included all of the Top 8 players in the world it was Azarenka and Sharapova who were the last two standing, although it wasn't easy by any means - in the quarterfinals Azarenka had to rally from a break down in the third set to beat Mona Barthel, and Sharapova actually had to save a match point and battle over three hours to get past Sam Stosur.
In a semifinal line-up that featured the Top 4, Azarenka beat Agnieszka Radwanska while Sharapova beat Petra Kvitova. Not since Dinara Safina, Serena Williams, Venus Williams and Elena Dementieva made the semis of Wimbledon in 2009 had an all-Top 4 final four happened at any WTA event.
History said Azarenka was the favorite in the final - though her lead in their overall head-to-head was only 5-3, she was 4-0 in finals, winning them all in straight sets - including routine victories in their only head-to-head matches this year, 63 60 in the Australian Open final and 62 63 in the Indian Wells final.
But Sharapova was much sharper this time. She showed some laser-like precision on her groundstrokes, complementing powerful crosscourt blasts with pinpoint down-the-lines off both sides - and she was dominating on her serve, losing just 17 points in her nine service games in the match, not getting broken at all, in fact giving Azarenka just one break point to look at (and saving it).
To define Sharapova's sharpness, she hit 31 winners to just 13 unforced errors.
"This was such a tough tournament with such difficult opponents, so I'm just happy to be the champion," Sharapova said in the trophy presentation. "I came to Europe this year a bit earlier than I usually do. I added this to my schedule and was going to use it as a warm-up tournament for the clay court season. But maybe I should start doing it every year since it's obviously working for me."
With the aforementioned match point saved against Stosur, Sharapova is the second player this year to win a WTA title having been match point down (Angelique Kerber did it in Copenhagen) and the first player in 10 months to do it at a Premier event (Marion Bartoli did it at Eastbourne last June).
Sharapova also scored her sixth win over a World No.1, her first five coming against Lindsay Davenport (at Tokyo [Pan Pacific] and WTA Championships in 2005), Justine Henin (at the Australian Open in 2008), Amélie Mauresmo (at the US Open in 2006) and Caroline Wozniacki (at Rome last year).
"I had lost the last few previous encounters with Victoria, so I was extremely motivated today," Sharapova added. "When I got the chance to go out and play her again I knew I had to change a few things. Before I was maybe a little bit impatient and went for a bit too much sometimes, but this time I was really patient. I was aggressive but consistent when I had to be against her.
"I felt I played quite smart in the important moments in the match."
Azarenka was looking for her first Premier-level clay court title, her only previous WTA title on this surface coming at the International-level event in Marbella last year. She still leaves with a sparkling 29-2 win-loss record on the year.
The Belarusian was treated for a right wrist injury during the match.
"It's obviously not how I wanted it to turn out in the final today, but I'm not going to sit here and look for excuses - that's not my style," she said. "I lost today and that's it, I'm moving on. The world doesn't end. There's going to be another big tournament in one week and I just have to look forward. There's no looking back, even for a little bit. In the end, it was still a good week for me.
"And Maria served really well and her game was really on. All credit to her."