Disastrous second set costs Sharapova s-final berth
She knew exactly what she had to do.
Beat Agnieszka Radwanska in straight sets and Maria Sharapova would have progressed to the semi-finals of the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global and kept alive her hopes of ending the year as the world No. 1.
The 27-year-old Russian, who lost to Caroline Wozniacki and Petra Kvitova in her first two matches in the White Group, looked on the way to achieving her first objective yesterday.
Cheered on by the partisan crowd at the Singapore Indoor Stadium, Sharapova claimed the first set 7-5 and then led 4-0 and 5-1 in the second.
But things soon unravelled after that.
The five-time Grand Slam champion then allowed world No. 6 Radwanska to claw back to 5-5, before the Pole took advantage of a shell-shocked Sharapova to win the second-set tie-breaker 7-6 (7/4).
It meant that the Russian was out of the tournament even before the end of the match.
Sharapova's body language summed up her sudden meltdown, with her drooping shoulders and bowed head as the third set began.
But, determined to go out on a high, the lanky Russian managed to pick herself up and finally prevailed 7-5, 6-7 (4/7), 6-2 in the three-hour epic.
Despite suffering the double whammy of crashing out of the tournament and kissing goodbye to her hopes of dethroning Serena Williams as the world No. 1, Sharapova appeared unflustered when she arrived for the post-match press conference.
"I had one goal going into this Finals and that was to remain healthy, and take good care of my shoulder, and I think I achieved that," said Sharapova.
"It's the only season in a long time where I've been fully fit and haven't retired from a single match.
"And I also have another Grand Slam (French Open) in my collection, so it's been a good year.
"I will not be chasing the No. 1 ranking next season, I think adding more Grand Slams is the top priority."
She added: "I don't want to talk about disappointments. I won this match. But I lost the other two matches, so it was always going to be difficult.
"I was a little impatient in my play, but she (Radwanska) did a good job retrieving many of my balls.
"She went for it more than I did."
Despite the loss to Sharapova, Radwanska made it through to today's semi-finals, after Wozniacki beat Kvitova 6-2, 6-3 in the other White Group match.
Under the round-robin format of the eight-player tournament, Radwanska could have qualified for the last four only if Wozniacki had overcome Kvitova.
"I knew that if I won, I was sure to be in the semi-finals. During the second set, I don't know what was happening, really," said the 25-year-old Radwanska.
"I just kept fighting, playing till the end. It got from 5-1, then 5-2 and 5-3, and I just played for every point."
Radwanska will face Simona Halep - who topped the Red Group despite losing 6-7 (7/9), 6-3, 3-6 to Serbia's Ana Ivanovic yesterday - in today's semi-final.
The other semi-final will see the American Williams take on good friend Wozniacki of Denmark.
Radwanska has promised to take Wozniacki out on a shopping spree after the Dane saved her from making an early exit at the WTA Finals.
"I think we're just going to go shopping, but with my credit card," quipped Radwanska.
Wozniacki later joked that she was hoping for an expensive gift from Radwanska.
"I hope she's going to keep her promise," Wozniacki said.
"She owes me a handbag. I think that's what I'm going to go for."
It’s the only season in a long time where I’ve been fully fit and haven’t retired from a single match. And I also have another Grand Slam (French Open) in my collection, so it’s been a good year.
— Maria Sharapova, after beating Agnieszka Radwanska