ISTANBUL, Turkey - Maria Sharapova battled past Agnieszka Radwanska and into the semis of the TEB BNP Paribas WTA Championships - Istanbul 2012 on Wednesday, rallying from 75 42 down and outlasting the Pole in a three-hour, 12-minute marathon that finished at 2:12am, 57 75 75.
The match put forth a clear contrast of styles: Sharapova constantly on the offense, Radwanska keeping her on the run with clever use of variety and redirection of pace. And for the first half of the match Radwanska's game plan was working better, as she snuck out of a 40-15 hole and broke Sharapova in the very last game of the first set, then broke again for 4-2 in the second set.
"I was a little bit frustrated early on," Sharapova said. "I wasn't doing the right things and she was doing all the right things, and making me make mistakes.
"I was just trying to hang in there."
And hang in there she did - a true workaholic, Sharapova never gave up on a winning strategy, always looking to take charge with big serves, big returns, ferocious groundstrokes - she would eventually outlast Radwanska 7-5 in the third set, finishing the match with a big ace out wide on the deuce side.
The numbers said it all - Sharapova was the clear aggressor with 66 winners to 64 errors, while Radwanska compiled a safer 18 winners to 19 errors.
"It was a very physical match with so many ups and downs - I wasn't playing my best tennis, but I kept fighting," Sharapova said. "And when you win when you're not at your best, it gives you extra motivation to do better in the next one."
Radwanska gave praise. "It was a great match, and all the sets were very tight," she said. "I had my chance in the second set, but when you don't use your chances against a top player, a great player, it's hard to come back and win."
And Sharapova gave praise back. "There's a reason why she's No.4 in the world. Her capability of anticipating where the ball goes and getting it back - and no matter if it's a hard shot or a low slice with no pace, she makes you work for it. She did until the end. I found a way to get through the points, which isn't easy."
Sharapova's victory also meant she has qualified for the semifinals.
"I'm happy to get to that stage - the goal is always to get out of your group," she said. "I was injured last year and didn't play very well, so to be in the semifinals this year makes me very proud, and especially given the way I fought tonight."
Sharapova wasn't the first one to qualify for the semifinals, though - by virtue of Victoria Azarenka needing to go three sets against Angelique Kerber before winning in the second match of the day, Serena Williams - who won the day's first match - also qualified (read about Williams' win here and Azarenka's win here). And by virtue of Petra Kvitova's withdrawal from the tournament (read more here), Sharapova and Williams are the only two former champions in the field, Sharapova winning it in 2004 and Williams in 2001 and 2009.
The round robin portion of the tournament continues on Thursday.