Sharapova rallies into Cincy finals

August 20, 2011 09:31 PM
MASON, OH - AUGUST 20: Maria Sharapova of Russia returns a shot to Vera Zvonareva of Russia during the Western & Southern Open at the Lindner Family Tennis Center on August 20, 2011 in Mason, Ohio. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

MASON, Ohio (AP) -- A pep talk got Maria Sharapova turned around and headed into a title match.

After playing a listless first set, Sharapova got inspired by a pep talk from her coach and rolled to a 2-6, 6-3, 6-3 victory over Vera Zvonareva on Saturday night that clinched a spot in the finals of the Western & Southern Open.

She'll play 13th-seeded Jelena Jankovic of Serbia, who beat Andrea Petkovic 7-6 (4), 6-1 in the later semifinal.

The fourth-seeded Sharapova was completely off her game in the first set, barely able to score points against the world's second-ranked player. Coach Thomas Hogstedt gave Sharapova an animated courtside talk, and she took over the 2-hour, 2-minute matchup of Russians.

"I didn't do a lot of talking,'' Sharapova said. "He talked most of the time. I called him over because I felt I just needed a little energy. Something was missing in the first set.''

Sharapova will be trying for her second tournament title this season - she also won in Rome. Last year, she reached the finals in Cincinnati and lost to Kim Clijsters.

"I love playing on this court,'' she said. "There's something about it.''

The women's bracket in the U.S. Open tuneup tournament was wide-open because of injuries and an early upset.

Clijsters withdrew with strained abdominal muscles - she also dropped out of the U.S. Open, where she's won the last two titles. Venus Williams had to skip the tournament because of a virus. Sister Serena Williams dropped out on Wednesday because of a sore toe. And third-seeded Victoria Azarenka dropped out with a hand injury.

With Clijsters out, Caroline Wozniacki became the top-ranked player. She lost her first match.

As a result, the four players who reached the semifinals have a combined four tournament wins this season, Zvonareva with two of them. She didn't need to do much to get ahead early on Saturday.

Sharapova's game was out of kilter at the start. She repeatedly missed routine shots, got broken twice and fell behind 5-2 while winning only 11 points in those first seven games.

She tried to get some momentum, repeatedly pumping her left fist when she made a few shots and broke Zvonareva's serve to keep the set going. Not for long - Zvonareva broke her back to finish it off.

During the break, Sharapova asked for a consultation with Hogstedt, who gave her a little pep talk, repeatedly pumping his left fist.

It worked.

Sharapova was much more aggressive at the start of the second set, breaking Zvonareva in the opening game. Soon, Zvonareva was on the defensive and making the mistakes - she double-faulted to lose her serve and the second set.

"In the second and third sets, I had my concentration level drop for moments a little bit,'' Zvonareva said. "I gave her a few chances. You give Maria chances like that, she'll take them.''

Another double-fault allowed Sharapova to break through for a 3-1 lead in the final set. Then, Sharapova returned the favor, double-faulting twice in a row while Zvonareva cut the deficit to 4-3.

Sharapova recovered quickly, coming to the net for a slam and giving herself three break points in the next game. Her strong forehand down the line put her up 5-3. She got a new racket and served it out, ending the match with a solid forehand.

She raised both arms in triumph and threw back her head.

Jankovic will be trying for her first tournament title since Indians Wells last year. It's only her second final of the season - she was a runner-up at Monterrey.

Petkovic came out with her right knee heavily wrapped - she tweaked it in the quarterfinals. She kept up until the first-set tiebreaker, when she hit a few shots poorly. She wound up for one backhand and sent it flying into the stands.

That was all Petkovic had in her. Jankovic broke her to open the second set, then again to go up 3-0.