STUTTGART, Germany - For the third time in three matches this week she was pushed to three sets, and for the third time she survived - Maria Sharapova edged Angelique Kerber in front of her home crowd Saturday, beating the German No.1 to reach the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix final, 63 26 75.
The No.1-seeded Sharapova came out firing, breaking twice to win the first set then taking the first game of the second set for a 63 10 lead; the No.3-seeded Kerber came alive from there, winning eight of the next nine games to take the second set and build a 2-0 lead in the third. The momentum swung to Sharapova from there, as she won five of the next six games to build a 5-3 lead in the third, but then Kerber came alive once again, breaking at love and holding serve to even that third set, 5-all.
But there's a reason Sharapova had won 28 of her last 31 three-setters going into the match - she almost always lifts her game when it really matters - and she did that in a big way this time again, winning the last two games of the match at love, improving 28 of the last 31 to 29 of the last 32.
"She plays pretty well off both sides, the forehand and backhand, but I think she does much better when she has the time to create angles or change directions, just like any other player," Sharapova said. "I lost momentum in the second set because I wasn't being as aggressive or stepping in as much, just not having as much on my ball as I did in the first set. So she was able to open up the court.
"My level certainly dropped in the second, but I'm really happy with the way I fought through it in the third. I'm really happy I was able to come through in this match. I did my job out there."
And on the three-setters? "Obviously I'd prefer to win easier, but that isn't always the situation you're given, and that's not the situation that was given to me today. I had to win in three sets. I had to play a longer match. The great thing about it is that I got through, and now I'm on to the next one.
"Whatever it takes."
While both players finished the match with a -2 winners-to-unforced errors differential, Sharapova was the clear aggressor in the match, hitting 42 winners to 44 unforced (Kerber was 23 and 25).
Sharapova has also won 15 straight matches on clay now and 21 of her last 22 (her only loss on clay since the start of last year's clay court season came to Serena Williams in Madrid last year).
This will be Sharapova's 49th WTA final - she has a 28-20 record in the previous 48 WTA finals.
Kerber has eight Top 10 wins but by losing to the World No.2 she is now 0-8 against Top 2 players.
"I'm disappointed - it was close and tough - but I've had a great week," Kerber said. "I'm feeling good on clay and I will take this experience and look forward to the next tournaments coming up."