Sharapova sounds warning to rivals
Maria Sharapova's injury woes seemed a distant memory as she led Team Russia to the Hong Kong Classic title yesterday.
There were no signs of the shoulder troubles that blighted the 22-year-old's form in 2009 and you can expect news of the Russian's play at Victoria Park over the past week to be trickling through to her potential foes as they gather Down Under for next week's Australian Open.
Expect it to be greeted with some trepidation.
At her very best, Sharapova is a fearsome sight and there were flashes of that during her 7-5, 6-3 victory over Team Europe's Caroline Wozniacki yesterday, her potent forehand in particular gradually finding its range as the match wore on.
Sharapova's victory sealed the title for the Russians after veteran Yevgeny Kafelnikov's earlier 7-5, 6-4 win over Stefan Edberg had given them a 2-0 lead. That meant the result of the tournament's final mixed doubles match was irrelevant in the best-of-three-match final. It was won anyway by Wozniacki and Edberg over Vera Zvonareva and Yevgeny Kafelnikov 6-4, 6-3.
Former world number one Sharapova, who won the Australian Open in 2008 but missed it last year due to a shoulder injury, is now off for a week of practice in Melbourne before the year's first grand slam there but apart from saying she was happy with her fitness and form, she would not be drawn into making any predictions.
'Well you never know the future,' said Sharapova, now ranked 14th in the word. 'I've had many great feelings and many horrible feelings about things and it has never worked out the way I have thought it would. So I just stay in the present and go from there.'
After being tested by Zheng Jie in her opening match of the event and dispensing with world number four Wozniacki yesterday, Sharapova said there were still a few things to be worked out before the Open kicks off.
'There are a few little things I am going to have a week to work on [such as] staying aggressive and maybe moving forward a lot more than I did here,' she said. 'I was a little bit up and down today but it's all going well.'
Surprisingly, for an ex-world number one and three-time grand slam winner, it was Sharapova's first victory at the Hong Kong event - and she has been coming here since she was 16. 'You always come back to the places where you have good memories,' she said. 'It's usually pretty tough to get out of the house early in the season because the year is pretty long. But you know you are going to have a few great matches here against good players who are going to test you before the Australian Open.'
Wozniacki's woes against the game's elite continued with the loss.
Despite rising to number four in the world, the 19-year-old Dane is yet to establish a winning record against any other player in the top 10 and in three meetings with Sharapova, has yet to take a set off the Russian.
Wozniacki seemed cursed by the fates, too, first when a ball was called out and she couldn't challenge (it was actually in) and then when a ball was called out and she could - and did (the call was correct). 'That's just part of the game,' Wozniacki said. 'I got some good matches in here this week and I think it has set me up well before Sydney [where she will play the Medibank International] and then it is on to Melbourne.'
Earlier, Team Americas picked up the Silver Group title when their mixed doubles combination of Venus Williams and Michael Chang prevailed over Team Asia Pacific's Zheng Jie and Paradorn Srichaphan, 4-6, 6-3, 11-9, 10-7. The result was decided via that second first-to-10-points tiebreak as the teams had both won two of the final's four matches.
'We got a bit of luck in the end,' said Williams. 'I respected Michael so much as a player when I was 15 and now here we are 15 years later playing together - it's been an honour.'