ISTANBUL, Turkey - Maria Sharapova was focused and ferocious against Sam Stosur on Friday, beating the Australian in straight sets to not only improve to 3-0 in her group but also to keep her hopes of year-end No.1 alive.
Sharapova had lost two of her last three meetings with Stosur - and barely won the other, saving match point in Stuttgart this year - but this one was no contest, as Sharapova stormed through the first set in 21 minutes at love, losing just five points, then - from 2-3 in the second set - going on maximum overdrive again, reeling off four games in a row to finish the Australian off, 60 63.
"After a really long match in my previous round, I was just trying to be really aggressive today and not spend as much time as I did the other day," Sharapova said. "I knew coming in I was already going to be in the semis, but I didn't want to lose. I wanted to do the right things today and I did them."
While the two players had comparable unforced errors - Sharapova 15, Stosur 13 - Sharapova far outweighed Stosur in the winners department, 17 to 5.
The Russian talked about her strategy after the match - a strategy that, despite having the recent aforementioned troubles with Stosur, now sees her improve to 11-2 lifetime against the current World No.9, and former World No.4.
"Sam likes to create a lot of spin, and when you give her the time she's certainly good at that, and it has gotten her a lot of success in the past," Sharapova said. "I tried to take that time away from her today and I'm happy how it turned out."
The result of the match was not going to affect the scenarios in Istanbul going forward - Sharapova was always going to finish No.1 in her group and advance to the semifinals, and Stosur was already out of the running for them. But when Sharapova was asked if it felt strange to play a "dead rubber match", the Russian showed a glimpse into her legendary drive and fighting mentality.
"They're not so dead - you're playing in front of thousands of people," she said. "There are things you play for. I don't want to just play tennis - I play to win.
"I wanted to try to replicate a match that matters - in my mind, it does. I never want to go into a match when I'm in a competitive tournament atmosphere and feel like there's nothing on the line. That would never get me going."
Stosur had won seven of her last 11 against Top 2 players, now seven of 12.
Sharapova, the No.2-ranked player in the world, still has a shot at ending the year at No.1, but she not only needs to win the title now, she needs Victoria Azarenka to lose to Li Na in their round robin match on Friday night.