Sharapova survives scare
Maria Sharapova recovered from an awful start to defeat Simona Halep and win the Mutua Madrid Open.
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It took Sharapova five games to get on the board and she lost the first set in less than half an hour, but the eighth seed turned things around early in the second set and went on to win 1-6 6-2 6-3.
The Russian has developed a formidable record on clay, a surface she used to hate, and seven of her most recent nine titles have now come on the dirt.
It certainly did not look like it would be a day to remember for Sharapova as Halep, the most improved player on the WTA Tour over the last year, raced into a 4-0 lead.
Sharapova called her coach Sven Groeneveld onto court for some advice after only three games but she could do nothing to stem the tide.
Halep was ranked 64th at the same time last year and needed a wild card to get into the main draw in Madrid before losing in the first round to Lourdes Dominguez Lino.
The following week she made the semi-finals in Rome as a qualifier and has not looked back since, winning seven titles and climbing to fifth in the rankings.
She looked totally at home in her first final at a WTA Premier Mandatory tournament but Sharapova can always be relied upon to fight to the last and she struck early in the second set.
The Russian, who has not lost to anyone other than Serena Williams on clay in almost three years, broke serve for the first time for 2-1 and went on to level the match.
Sharapova carried her momentum into the decider and opened up a 4-1 lead.
Halep won two games in a row to put the pressure on but Sharapova pulled away again to clinch victory after an hour and 57 minutes.
It extended her winning run on clay to 11 matches after the former French Open champion also won the title in Stuttgart two weeks ago.
Sharapova admitted she had surprised even herself with her comeback. Speaking on court, the 27-year-old said: "Last year I lost in the finals and I really wanted to go one extra step this year, and it's just been such a fantastic week.
"Simona and I had played a couple of times before, but she's really on a different level now. I don't know how I pulled it off.
"In the first set I wasn't doing much to hurt her, and that's the tennis she's capable of playing. I knew I had to do some different things after the first set to win this match."