Perfection came to an end for Victoria Azarenka on Wednesday night when she lost to Marion Bartoli in the quarterfinals of the Sony Ericsson in Miami, FL. It was her first loss on the year and it opened the door for the rest of the field that has been forced to watch the world No.1 lift trophy after trophy including the victory in Indian Wells two weeks ago. The one with the closest view to her sizzling season has been 2nd ranked player Maria Sharapova who has lost twice so far this year in the final rounds to Azarenka.
A three-time finalist at this event in Miami, Sharapova took out former world No.1 Caroline Wozniacki in the semi-finals to reach the finals where she faced Agnieszka Radwanska. Though holding a 7-1 record against Radwanska, the Polish player ended her losing streak as she won 7-5, 6-4 to take the championship in a well fought battle. In a first set that lasted nearly one hour, both players held serve until Radwanska was able to capitalize on Sharapova’s 25th unforced error of the set to take the 7-5 advantage. The second set also showed both players holding serve until Sharapova was broken at 5-4 as Radwanska closed out the game.
“I lost against her the last few times, but today was a very tight match too, and I think I was better for just a couple of points each set,” Radwanska said after the match. “Maria is a really good player – a top player, second in the world right now. So I had pretty much nothing to lose. I was focusing on my serve, and I’m very happy I didn’t lose my serve – I think it was actually the biggest key in this match. It’s a great feeling to beat these kinds of players, especially in a final.”
Radwanska has had a remarkable season so far with her record for 2012 now 26-4. Those four losses have all come at the hand of Azarenka who is also having a career year as she is 26-1. Radwanska never dropped a set in Miami as she has also moved up to a career best 4th in the world with her 9th WTA title. If it wasn’t for Azarenka’s near perfect year no doubt more focus would be falling upon Radwanska.
For Sharapova this marks another missed opportunity for the veteran. She had several chances to break Radwanska throughout the match and could not find a way to execute when she needed to. Sharapova ended the day with 45 unforced errors compared to only 10 for her opponent. Radwanska took the route of patience and simply took advantage of Sharapova’s mistakes at the right times.
Perhaps more discouraging for Sharapova is that this marks her third final of the season and she is now 0-3. Her last victory was last summer when she won the Western and Southern Open in Cincinnati, Ohio. With the return of both Venus and Serena Williams (who both played steady as they are coming back from injuries), titles may become even more in short supply as the season continues. The clay season and the elusive French Open dangles before her, the only Grand Slam that she doesn’t have on her resume. But as Radwanka proved today, to win on the WTA these days you almost have to play perfectly.