Late-match overrule irks Wozniacki

Published Mar. 29, 2012 1:00 a.m. ET

Maria Sharapova advanced to the Sony Ericsson Open final on Thursday with a blistering victory over Caroline Wozniacki, but the three-set battle didn’t end without a note of controversy.

The second-seeded Sharapova rallied after dropping the first set to win 4-6, 6-2, 6-4, but the fourth-seeded Dane wasn’t happy about the way the match ended — and she left the court without shaking umpire Kader Nouni’s hand.

Sharapova served for the match at 5-2, but Wozniacki broke back to extend the drama. At the second time of asking, however, Sharapova reached match point after some heavy hitting from both players and put in a second serve that was called out. Nouni immediately overruled and ordered the point to be replayed. Normally, Wozniacki would have challenged the call, but she already had been wrong three times so she had no challenges left. The Dane promptly lost the replayed point — and the match — and stormed off the court.

Television replays showed Nouni to have been right, but that did not mollify a frustrated Wozniacki.

Asked if it made her feel better that the umpire’s judgment had been correct, she replied, “No, it doesn’t. No, because I think when the ball is so close I think he should give her a chance to challenge, at least, when I don’t have any more challenges. She was going to challenge it, anyways. So if it shows good, it’s good. If it shows out, it’s out. The ball was so close that it might as well have been out.”

It was a player talking too soon after a defeat, when judgment is impaired. The fact is that the umpire was right, Wozniacki was wrong and she should not have refused to shake his hand.

Sharapova, meanwhile, always packs a wallop in her groundstrokes. But I have never seen her hit the ball harder than this. The tall Russian, who used to be driven down from her training center at Bradenton to Key Biscayne to watch as a 12-year-old, started the match firing on all cylinders and raced to a 4-1 lead. But, as she admitted, her concentration went down — fatal against such a relentless opponent as Wozniacki. In a sudden turnaround, the Dane grabbed five straight games to take the first set.


“But I stepped it up again,” said Sharapova, who ended up with 55 winners to Wozniacki’s 13. “So I went out there and started being aggressive again. I had to be. She’s the sort of player who makes you hit a lot of balls. She can be out there for hours. She’s extremely consistent. That’s what got her to No. 1 in the world. That’s not my game. I don’t hesitate. I go more for my shots.”

Sharapova certainly did that in rallying to win the match. A couple of her forehand service returns flashed past Wozniacki before the Dane could move, and Maria was equally devastating off the backhand on occasion.

So Sharapova, who was runner-up in January at the Australian Open in January and then 10 days ago at Indian Wells, is in her third final of the year and also her third final at Key Biscayne. But she has yet to win this title. With her confidence on the rise, this would be an opportune moment for her to improve on that record. She’ll face with winner of the second women’s semifinal between Marion Bartoli and Agnieszka Radwanska.

After Sharapova’s victory, American Mardy Fish put on a horror show against Argentina’s Juan Monaco in the quarterfinals, getting hammered 6-1, 6-3.

It was Monaco’s 28th birthday and he celebrated in style — and, it seemed, among friends. The Stadium Court was well-populated by Argentines and other South Americans, who tend to club together on these occasions, and poor Fish must have thought he was playing in Buenos Aires.

Despite an improvement in form this week, Fish suddenly found himself struggling for rhythm and accuracy against a hard-hitting opponent who pounded the ball from the backcourt and served into the body with great effectiveness. But Fish also made 32 unforced errors, compared to Monaco’s 15, and did himself no favors with the number of times he netted routine shots.

But he offered perspective on that. “He did a lot of things well today and, more than anything else, he shrunk the court extremely well with his movement,” Fish said. “He gives you no space. That’s why you saw a ton of errors from me. He gives you nothing. With a slow surface and even slower balls, it’s tough to get anything past him.”

Fish did break back for 3-all in the second set and then wondered how he lost his service again. “I played three good points that game, but he came up with that unbelievable lob on break point and there was nothing I could do.”


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