SINGAPORE (REUTERS) - Maria Sharapova recovered from a second-set meltdown to record her first victory at this year's WTA Finals with a 7-5. 6-7 (4-7), 6-2 triumph over Poland's Agnieszka Radwanksa on Friday but the Russian still bowed out of the elite eight-woman tournament.
After losing her opening two Red Group round-robin matches, Sharapova needed to win in straight sets to stand any chance of advancing to the semi-finals and maintaining her pursuit of Serena Williams' No. 1 ranking.
The Russian looked set to keep her side of the bargain when she roared into a 5-1 lead in the second set but she ran into a wall called Radwanska, with the Pole returning everything Sharapova threw at her to save three match points and reel off five straight games.
Sharapova held a nervy service game to send the second set into a tie-break and with her booming forehands suddenly unable to find their range, Radwanska ended her opponent's interest in the tournament when she claimed the breaker 7-4.
For Radwanska, winning the set was crucial as it now means any victory for Caroline Wozniacki in the final Red Group game against Petra Kvitova later on Friday will send her through to the semi-finals along with the Dane.
Wozniacki is already guaranteed a last four berth so even if she loses to Kvitova, the Czech Wimbledon champion will advance with her instead of Radwanska.
"It's so great to finally get a win in Singapore, I really wanted it today as it was so tough in that second set. We have always had tight matches and today was no different," Sharapova said in a courtside interview.
The first set was an edgy affair with neither player able to hold serve in the first four games before Sharapova got the better of another three-game run of broken serves to close out the opener in a little over an hour.
Confident and finding the paint with her booming forehands, the Russian appeared to be racing through the second set at 4-0 and 5-1 but Radwanska showed her incredible defence and fighting spirit to even the match from an almost impossible position.
Sharapova took a short break before the deciding set and returned looking more determined than ever, seizing the momentum with a booming forehand down the line in the sixth game to open a 4-2 lead.
Two games later, she had won the match with her 32nd forehand winner of the 3hr 12min contest, the Russian clearly delighted with her third-set performance after her struggles at the end of the second.
"I had to regather my thoughts and my game plan and just go back to the basics. She gets so many balls back that sometimes I felt I was rushing a little too much. But in the end I was able to tough it out and am so happy to get a victory here," she added.