Serena Williams wins record sixth Sony Open title
Spinning and grinning Williams enjoys Sony Open victory, but complains that it was 'not her day', while praising Sharapova's performance
Associated Press in Key Biscayne, Florida
Serena Williams danced to the crowd's roar, spinning and grinning, hopping and waving, then spinning some more.
If her victory celebration on the stadium court seemed well-rehearsed, it was. She earned a record sixth Key Biscayne women's title by beating familiar foil Maria Sharapova 4-6, 6-3, 6-0 at the Sony Open.
Sharapova set a new standard for futility in finals. She completed a career grand slam by winning the French Open last year, and won Indian Wells two weeks ago, but she is winless in five Key Biscayne finals.
The Russian played nearly flawless tennis for an hour, before her serve and ground strokes began to lose their venom.
Williams swept the last 10 games and faltered only in the trophy ceremony.
"I felt good today," she told the crowd. "It's so good to be No 6 now - I mean, the six-time - oh, gosh. Thank you."
At 31, the No 1 ranked Williams became the oldest female champion at Key Biscayne.
She won the tournament for the first time since 2008 and surpassed Steffi Graf, a five-times champion.
"Serena played a great match," Sharapova said. "I'm sure we'll be playing a few more times this year."
Sharapova did not sound thrilled at the prospect, with good reason. She has lost 11 consecutive matches to Williams, not beating her since 2004.
The final began at noon in sunny, mild weather, and the quality of shots matched the conditions in the early games. The aggressive style of both made for slam-bang points, and the occasional long rallies had the crowd gasping at their ferocity.
As they battled from the baseline, Sharapova built a lead by keeping Williams on the defensive, and kissed the line with a winner on consecutive points to break for a 3-2 advantage in the second set.
"I just was like, 'Serena, are you really going to get to the final and not play up to your potential'," Williams said. "I don't think I was as energised as I could be." Then she lifted the power, began feasting on Sharapova's tentative second serve and broke back at love, then took advantage of two double faults by Sharapova to break again.
Williams lives two hours up the highway in Palm Beach Gardens, and she made herself right at home in the final set, losing only 10 points.
"That's why she's No 1 in the world," Sharapova said. "She's really capable of doing that. I was controlling a lot of the points in the first set and the beginning of the second. Then towards the end, I wasn't there."
Williams' late surge won cheers from the crowd, which included her sister, three-times champion Venus.
Sharapova made 80 per cent of her first serves early on, but finished at 63 per cent. Williams converted all seven break-point chances and had a 35-13 advantage in winners.
But Williams' standards are high, and in her post-match news conference, she sounded as though she had lost. "Today wasn't my day, I don't think," she said. "Maria played really the best I have seen her play, she was moving unbelievably and she was hitting winners."
It was not Williams' first test in the past week. She trailed Dominika Cibulkova 6-2, 4-1 before rallying in the fourth round, and was annoyed to hit six double faults in the quarter-finals.
"I'm happy to be holding the championship," Williams said. "It's definitely not my best tournament. But those are the moments that count - when you can still come out on top."
She remains No 1 and Sharapova No 2 this week. Williams is the first No 1-seeded woman to win the title since she was champion in 2004.
Her other titles at Key Biscayne came in 2002, '03, '07 and '08. Sharapova was runner-up in 2005, '06, '11 and '12.
"It's tough to lose in the final stage because you work so hard to get there," Sharapova said. "But the more I give myself this opportunity, the better chance I have of winning."