Sharapova survives letdown, wins Cincy title

August 21, 2011 08:51 PM
MASON, OH - AUGUST 21: Maria Sharapova of Russia celebrates match point against Jelena Jankovic of Serbia during the final of the Western & Southern Open at the Lindner Family Tennis Center on August 21, 2011 in Mason, Ohio. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

CINCINNATI (AP) -- No meltdown for Maria Sharapova in this Cincinnati final. She put five sterling points together, and that was enough.

Sharapova overcame a first-set letdown on Sunday, rallying to beat Jelena Jankovic 4-6, 7-6 (3), 6-3 for the championship of the Western & Southern Open.

The fourth-seeded Russian survived a match full of service breaks - 16 in all, seven in the final set alone - for her second title of the season. Sharapova's best moments came in the tiebreaker, when she won the last five points to even the match.

"That's pretty much it, putting five points together that were well-played,'' she said.

Such stretches were rare in a ragged match that lasted 2 hours, 49 minutes and had a pair of brief rain delays.

The 14th-ranked Jankovic extended her streak of 17 months without a singles title. She won in Cincinnati in 2009, but hasn't gotten a championship since Indian Wells on March 21 last year.

"This match could have gone either way,'' she said.' `I had my chances. It showed the match is not over until you shake the hand.''

Jankovic shook hands and then sat in her chair after the match, biting a white towel while staring straight ahead, thinking about what had just happened. The match ended when her baseline forehand sailed wide.

Despite the loss, Jankovic was upbeat. She came to Cincinnati feeling rusty and lacking confidence after playing few matches lately and having little success.

"I'm pretty unpredictable,'' she said. "If somebody told me I was going to play a final here, I would right away sign the paper.''

It was a sweet about-face for Sharapova, who reached the finals in Cincinnati last year against Kim Clijsters, got three match points in the second set, then melted down.

"It's been a great year for me so far,'' Sharapova said. "It can always be better or worse. I'm definitely proud I've gone further than last year, after the disappointing loss here last year.''

This time, she came out on top in a tournament that had the women's bracket torn apart by injuries, illness and upsets.

Clijsters withdrew because of an abdominal strain - she's also out the U.S. Open, where she's won the last two titles. Venus Williams was sidelined by a virus. Sister Serena Williams dropped out at midweek with a sore toe. Third-seeded Victoria Azarenka had to quit because of a hand injury.

With Clijsters out, Caroline Wozniacki became the top-seeded player in the draw - and lost her first match.

The tournament ended with a pairing of players who had only one singles title between them this season, Sharapova's championship at Rome.

Jankovic, who was ranked No. 1 as recently as 2008, has struggled with back, wrist and ankle injuries during her long run with only one singles title. The Serb reached only one other final this season, losing at Monterrey, and had a chance to end the 17-month drought after getting off to a good start on Sunday.

Rain briefly delayed the start of the match, and again for a few minutes in the fourth game, when the players stayed in their chairs waiting for it to stop.

Sharapova was more aggressive at the start, breaking Jankovic's serve twice while pulling ahead 4-1. She won 19 of the first 27 points and appeared to be in control. That's when Jankovic changed the momentum, breaking Sharapova three times in a row. She won the set when Sharapova double faulted.

It was reminiscent of last year, when Sharapova wasted the three match points against Clijsters and ended up losing 2-6, 7-6 (4), 6-2. This time, she managed to pull out of the nosedive by saving the second set. She won the last five points of the tiebreaker, hitting her shots as hard as she could with everything on the line.

Neither player could hold serve in the third set, which started with six straight breaks. Sharapova threw back her head and pumped her left arm after holding serve - finally! - to go up 4-3.

"You find yourself in the third set, you've played two hours, it's a finals match - obviously a lot of emotion going through it,'' Sharapova said.

When Jankovic doubled faulted twice to lose the next game on her serve, Sharapova was in position to close it out.