Maria stands her ground

Maria Sharapova says satisfaction comes from finding a way to get past an opponent on court when the going gets tough.
Maria Sharapova says satisfaction comes from finding a way to get past an opponent on court when the going gets tough.ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM

Russian fends off Halep, Pennetta happy to play tourist

"Que Sera Sera" rang loud during a changeover at the Singapore Indoor Stadium last night, as it has frequently so far at the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global.

Courtesy of a commercial produced by StarHub in celebration of the season finale, it gave the widely-known classic a slight twist:

Que Sera Sera

Whatever will be, will be

The future's not ours to see

The future is ours to create.

It might have reminded Maria Sharapova of similar advice she often got from her father Yuri when she was just a little girl.

As she revealed earlier this week: You just have to figure out a way to win, no matter what.

So despite "rust" as she had claimed there would be after coming back from injury, a hesitant serve - seven double faults were committed - and a worthy adversary who threatened a late comeback, the Russian found a way to carve out the victory she craved as she beat Simona Halep 6-4, 6-4.

Perhaps a new firmware was installed into Sharapova's warbook in the months that she has been injured. She is still a ferocious fighter but also one who employs deft dropshots to perfection and is equally well-versed in the art of defence.

"I think it's not about playing your best tennis in order to win," said Sharapova when asked about her superior head-to-head record against Halep, which is now 6-0. "It's about finding a way to win.

"I don't think I played unbelievable tennis today. I still made errors. I've always been a player that... (doesn't) seek perfection because I don't know if that's possible.

"I feel happier when I get through a match and I didn't play my best tennis but found a way to win."

Up 5-1 in the second set and handed the chance to serve out the match, Sharapova faltered twice.

Halep won the next three games, breaking twice and looked set to capitalise on her momentum but could not hold her serve when it mattered most at 4-5.

Said world No. 2 Halep, the top seed: "I was fighting until the end. I was close but I couldn't win. But I will work. I don't have to find excuses. Just to think about this match, to take the positives, and just to work on them and be better next time when I play against her."

Halep will play Agnieszka Radwanska next while Sharapova will take on Flavia Pennetta.

None of them in the Red Group is yet guaranteed a spot in the semi-finals after Pennetta upset Radwanska 7-6 (7-5), 6-4 yesterday.

In that match, while it was Pennetta who dazzled with her string of backhand winners, it was instead Pennetta Sr courtside who was getting all the attention.

Her father, in Singapore with other members of her family to watch the US Open champion play her swansong tournament, was often on his feet during the match.

Speaking fondly of her father, Oronzo, whom she described as a "really passionate person", Pennetta said: "When I was young, I was fighting with him all the time because he was really like stressful in the way you see."

"Now, he's quiet," she joked.

Even with a place in the last four at stake when she plays Sharapova, the Italian is not thinking about it just yet. Her time, she said, will be much better spent playing tourist.

"I (want to) enjoy this moment... let me see the city, talk about the (Gardens by the Bay)," she said.

And maybe she has nothing to be worried about. After all, Pennetta is the only one in the group with a superior head-to-head record over the powerful Russian (3-2).

"(Sharapova) has this adrenaline because she was out for three or four months... When you come in the court after so long, you are with a lot of energy. It's going to be tough for sure. But the garden is going to be better," she said with a grin.

First, Pennetta will enjoy the view from the Supertrees. Then, come Thursday, she surveys the lanky Russian across the net.


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 28, 2015, with the headline 'MARIA STANDS HER GROUND'. Print Edition | Subscribe