San Diego: July 30 - August 5

August 6, 2006 10:08 PM
Maria Sharapova poses with the trophy after defeating Kim Clijsters in the final of the Acura Classic© Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
CARLSBAD, Calif. (AP) -- Maria Sharapova outslugged an erratic Kim Clijsters 7-5, 7-5 Sunday to win the championship of the Acura Classic.

The second-seeded Sharapova won with breaks in the final game of each set, including the only break of the second set, and snapped Clijster's 24-match winning streak in North American summer hardcourt events.

The title was Sharapova's first since winning at Indian Wells in March, and the 12th of her career. It was also the first time the Russian defeated Clijsters, a former No. 1, in five matches.

"There's not a lot things not to like about my game,'' said Sharapova, ranked No. 4. "I played a pretty solid five players and came out with two-set wins in each one. It gives me confidence and I feel like I'm match tough again.''

The last time Clijsters lost on North American summer hardcourts was here last year in the quarterfinals. Since then she has won four straight summer hardcourt tournaments, including last year at Los Angeles, Toronto and the U.S. Open for her only major title. Clijsters added the Bank of the West Classic title last week at Stanford, Calif.

The top-seeded Clijsters, who previously announced her plans to retire at the end of the 2007 season, was still hampered by a bad back in the finals. Clijsters, ranked No. 2, began to consistently miss her shots as the second set wore on.

"It was tough out there,'' she said. "I fought. I tried to go for everything when I was down but was not good enough. After long points, it was hard to refocus for the next shot. I didn't feel that fresh.''

Sharapova, the 2004 Wimbledon champion, and Clijsters played one incredibly long point with Sharapova serving for the first set at 6-5. The point featured a number of outstanding shots and saves on both sides before Sharapova drove a forehand into the net. The crowd erupted into a prolonged standing ovation as both players struggled to catch their breath.

"I still feel it. I was too tired to keep my eyes open,'' Clijsters said.

"I can't talk about it,'' joked Sharapova. "I get dizzy thinking about it. It was basically survival.''

Sharapova closed out the set four points later when Clijsters netted a forehand.

After the players combined for seven service breaks in the first set, Clijsters held the only service breaks in the final set until the last game. The Belgian failed to convert on one break in the first game, three breaks in the seventh game and two more in the ninth game.

"I think she made a few good first serves,'' Clijsters said. "On a couple of second serves, I missed. I tried to go for it a little bit too soon.''

Sharapova, who failed to serve at the level she did in her semifinal-round win over Patty Schnyder, broke through in the 12th game of the second set with the only service break for either player in the second set to end the 1 hour, 48-minute match.

"I knew that I had to be physically and mentally ready or I was going down,'' said Sharapova, who earned $196,00 for the victory.

Clijsters, who won $100,000, became the ninth player to surpass $14 million in career earnings.