March 25, 2013

Maria Sharapova eyes first Sony Open title

Second-ranked Maria Sharapova cruised to a victory against Elena Vesnina in quest of her first title at the Miami event. Men’s No. 1 Novak Djokovic also advanced.

World No. 2 Maria Sharapova was incredulous about the question aimed at her Sunday afternoon at the Sony Open.

After overcoming a 1-3 deficit in the first set to dominate fellow Russian Elena Vesnina, 6-4, 6-2, Sharapova elicited this comment from a foreign reporter: “I’m amazed at how your tennis has [evolved]. Do you think your screams have [evolved] as well with your tennis?”

Deadpanned Sharapova: “No, I don’t.”

Between Sharapova, known for her on-court grunting, and equally vocal Vesnina, it was a Stadium Court Russian symphony — punctuated by fist-pumping aggressiveness and superior play that launched Sharapova to the fourth round.

“I personally love Miami and I love the tournament,” Sharapova told the crowd after her match, which was played in blustery winds and temperatures that reached 90 degrees. “The most important thing is to stay healthy and keep motivated. There’s no better motivation than winning.”

Sharapova, coming off her first 2013 title at Indian Wells, has gotten to the final at Key Biscayne four times since 2005, but has lost each time. Last year, she lost the title match to current No. 4 Agnieszka Radwanksa, who meets 16th-ranked Sloane Stephens on the Grandstand in Monday’s third match.

“It’s in the back of my mind because I would love to be the champion here,” she said. “It’s one of the biggest tournaments for us and it’s one that I [am] the most consistent at being in four finals, but yet not winning it.”

Sharapova, 25, was asked earlier this month which tournament feels more like home for her — the Sony in Miami or the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells in Southern California.

“Miami has a really special place in my heart because it’s where I landed for the first time in the United States as a little girl, and I went to the tournament every single year with my parents when I was training in [Bradenton], Florida,” she said.

“We’d watch Yevgeny Kafelnikov,” she said Sunday, “and I remember watching Marcelo Rios playing. I loved watching him play, and especially the late nights and all the Latin fans. It’s probably 11, close to midnight, and they were going strong.

“It was a great atmosphere.”

She was reminded that she has a shot at the No. 1 ranking after Sony, but only if she wins it all this week, coupled with a loss by top-ranked Serena Williams against No. 13 seed Dominika Cibulkova in the second match Monday on Stadium Court. Williams defeated Cibulkova in the third round of the 2010 Wimbledon.

“Yeah, it’s always a great position to be in when [you’re] close to No. 1,” Sharapova said. “I don’t take that for granted. But I also know it’s important to be level-headed and think about the next one, rather than the end result or how other people are going to do and where your ranking is going to stand, depending on other people’s results.

“So my theory on that is just try to win as many matches on your end, and that gives you a better chance to be on top.”

On Sunday, Sharapova fought through seven deuces at 3-3 to finally break back and lead 4-3. After that, she cruised.

“It was a very important game,” she said. “I felt like I had a bit of momentum.”

Sharapova’s next opponent on Monday at 9 p.m.: No. 21 seed Klara Zakopalova, who battled with the Russian at last year’s French Open before Sharapova pulled away in three sets.

The women’s upset of the day involved No. 28 seed Sorana Cirstea of Romania defeating sixth-ranked Angelique Kerber of Germany, 6-4, 6-0.

In other matches Sunday, world No. 1 Novak Djokovic defeated Domdev Devvarman of India, 6-2, 6-4; and fifth-ranked David Ferrer, who has reached at least the fourth round at Key Biscayne eight of the last nine years, defeated Fabio Fognini of Italy, 6-1, 7-5.

Ferrer, 30, had a bye in the first round, then earned a walkover Friday just by showing up for his scheduled match against Dmitry Tursunov, who dropped out with acute gastroenteritis.

“It’s very nice, no?” said Ferrer, a Spaniard. “With only one match I am in the [fourth] round. He played one match before. He was more comfortable in the court.”

Ferrer next plays world No. 15 Kei Nishikori of Japan, who defeated Xavier Malisse 6-2, 7-5 Sunday. They are 2-2 against each other, with Ferrer winning their latest match in January at the Australian Open.

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