World No. 2 Maria Sharapova saved her best performance of the week for last when she successfully defended her WTA Porsche Tennis Grand Prix title in Stuttgart, Germany, with a 6-4, 6-3 victory over second seed Li Na of China to kick off her clay-court season in style on Sunday.
Sharapova, who had needed three sets in all her previous rounds in Stuttgart, found it easier against Li, taking revenge for her Australian Open straight-sets semi-final defeat to the Chinese player.
“I thought I would play three sets today. Li is a great opponent. I knew it would be one of the toughest matches because she had a great week,” a beaming Sharapova said before stepping into a luxury sports car, a gift from the tournament sponsors.
“I was very fortunate to be in this position today,” said the 26-year-old, who has also won the title in Indian Wells this year, in a courtside interview. “Our head-to-head is pretty tight. She beat me in Australia and she beat me pretty well so I wanted revenge.”
The top seed snatched a break at the start with a sizzling backhand down the line that left Li stranded.
World No. 5 Li, who has won one title this year, sent a cross-court backhand into the net to give the Russian another break and allow her to go 4-1 up.
The Australian Open finalist bounced back in the next game and grabbed her own first break when Sharapova sent a forehand long after a long rally, her loud grunts echoing around the stadium.
However, Sharapova was in no mood for adventures and quickly established a double break cushion, then served out the first set on her first opportunity when Li sank a return into the net after another well-placed serve.
The pair traded blows until Sharapova earned another break point and went 4-3 up.
With a superb first-serve figure of 76 percent throughout the game, she kept her opponent pinned to the back and earned her second title of the year when Li double-faulted on the first match point.
GRAND PRIX SAR
Former world No. 4 Francesca Schiavone of Italy won her sixth career title on Sunday with a comfortable 6-1, 6-3 victory over Lourdes Dominguez Lino of Spain in the final of the Marrakech Grand Prix.
The Italian, now languishing just inside the world top 50 at No. 48, has struggled this year, losing in the first round in five of the nine previous events she has played.
The 2010 French Open champion, who had failed to progress past the quarter-finals of a WTA tournament since her last piece of silverware in Strasbourg, Framce, in May last year, was in dominant form on the Moroccan clay court and did not drop a single set.
Schiavone eased through the first set of the final, breaking Dominguez Lino twice.
The 59th-ranked Spaniard, who was pushed to three sets in each of her four previous matches, gave herself a glimmer of hope in the second set, breaking her fellow 32-year-old to go 3-1 up.
However, Schiavone immediately countered and despite having to save three break points in the set, wrapped up victory in just more than 90 minutes.