Day One Wrap
MADRID, Spain - Everything worked in Maria Sharapova's favor on Tuesday, as the first three round robin matches kicked off at the Sony Ericsson Championships at Madrid Arena.
While the 2004 champion started her quest for the No.1 ranking with a 61 64 victory over Elena Dementieva, her direct competitors for the top spot didn't get off to such a hot start. World No.1 Amélie Mauremso never found her rhythm in the first match of the day, losing 62 62, to Nadia Petrova. No.3 Justine Henin-Hardenne held a commanding 62 5-2 lead over Martina Hingis but had to labor almost two hours before finishing her 62 67(5) 61 victory.
"Martina started to play her game and had nothing to lose at that time," Henin-Hardenne said about Hingis' second set comeback. "I lost my focus a little bit. The key was for me to step into the court and take the ball early."
No.2 Sharapova can finish the year on top if she wins this week and Henin-Hardenne fails to reach the final. Dementieva made Sharapova's life relatively easy on Tuesday, by committing 15 double faults, eight in the second set.
Mauresmo also wasn't in top form. Her body language indicated that she's under a lot of pressure to keep her top spot. Not only does she have to defend her title, Henin-Hardenne must finish last in their yellow group and Sharapova must miss the final. A right shoulder injury that kept her away from Sony Ericsson WTA Tour competition for over a month was also a contributing factor.
"There was no pain in my shoulder," she said. "I just feel a little behind and made stupid mistakes. This is the kind of match I play after missing competitions."
Petrova put on a forceful display of ground strokes and serves, rushing to leads of 3-0 and 4-1. Many of her furious, two-fisted backhands were too much to handle for the world No.1, who framed one up high into the stands, falling behind 5-2. Before the third deuce of the ensuing game, Petrova changed her racket and ripped a breathtaking backhand passing shot past Mauresmo, who was looking to finish the point with an easy forehand volley. The Frenchwoman then committed a backhand error to give Petrova the first set.
In the second set, Petrova stuck to her game plan of attacking Mauresmo's one-handed backhand and it worked in her favor. After managing a crucial break to go up 3-1, she pumped her fist three times, knowing she had all the momentum on her side. Mauresmo, who only started hitting again last Monday, was forced into making error after error. At 30-all, she netted a second service return to give Petrova game point and the Russian capitalized relentlessly and secured a 4-1 lead on a blistering ace.
"I played smart tennis," Petrova said. "I served well and was patient and absolutely calm, and I felt like I was in control of the match."
Petrova served for the match but wasted three match points and gave away the game. Mauresmo then held a 40-0 lead on her own serve but couldn't fight her way back into the match. She missed an easy forehand volley to give her opponent another match point. A Petrova backhand was called out but she won the challenge and iced the victory on a forehand winner.
"She played a good match," Mauresmo said. "Not a great match but it was enough for what I gave her in return. So, it's even more frustrating to play against a player who hasn't even played a great match, just a normal match."
Two-time champion Kim Clijsters and Svetlana Kuznetsova enter the scene Wednesday, as the second set of round robin matches gets underway. Clijsters, who won back-to-back Sony Ericsson Championships titles in 2002 and 2003, is entering the week after an impressive title run at her home event in Hasselt. But the Belgian has a huge task ahead of her against Sharapova, who just defeated her this summer in the San Diego final.
Elena Dementieva, who went winless in her previous two Sony Ericsson championship appearances, will try to rebound against in-form compatriot Kuznetsova. It will be another tough one for Dementieva because Kuznetsova will try to do everything to finish her remarkable fall run on a high note. She won consecutive titles at Bali and Beijing and followed up with semifinals runs at Stuttgart and Zurich. This could be an exciting match, as the head-to-head series is tied at 3.
In the final match of the day, Hingis has to be ready for Petrova's power. The two haven't played each other in more than four years and the Russian has since elevated her game to new heights. The 1-1 head-to-head series calls for an even match-up.