SINGAPORE - Maria Sharapova held off an inspired second set fightback to close out Simona Halep in a blockbuser round robin match at the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global.
Though Sharapova had won all five of the pair's previous meetings, it seemed like a huge opportunity for Halep this time - not only had she looked fantastic in her first match of the week against Flavia Pennetta, dropping just three games, but Sharapova had to battle nearly three hours to win hers.
And for the first 45 minutes this blockbuster clash was dead even, the two trading breaks en route to 4-all in the first set, but that's when Sharapova pounced, winning seven of the next eight games to build a massive 6-4, 5-1 lead. The No.1-seeded Halep hung tough, sneaking out three games to close the gap to 5-4 in the second set, but the No.3-seeded Sharapova broke one last time to end it, 6-4, 6-4.
"It definitely got really tough," Sharapova said in her on-court interview right after the match.
"I guess those are the moments you have to get through when you haven't played in a long time, and against the No.2 player in the world these matches don't come easy. It definitely showed until the end."
It was Sharapova's milestone 20th career match win at the WTA Finals - she's now 20-10 at this event.
The win over the No.2-ranked Halep was also Sharapova's best win in more than a year - the last time she beat a Top 2 player was also a No.2-ranked Halep in the quarterfinals of Cincinnati last August.
Halep, now 0-6 lifetime against Sharapova, was impressed with the former World No.1's shotmaking.
"She played really well today. She did amazing shots in the most important moments in the match," the Romanian said after the match. "Even if she didn't play for a long time, since Wimbledon, she knows how to play. She's a champion. She has experience. And she's always playing really well against me.
"But I think I did a good job today. I did everything I could. I was fighting until the end, and that's what's best for me. Again it was the same story - I was close but I couldn't win. I have to accept it.
"But I will work harder. Now I'm more motivated that I have to learn things to beat her."