Sharapova sinks Azarenka for Stuttgart crown
Maria Sharapova fired a stark warning to her rivals ahead of this year's French Open as she toppled world No. 1 Victoria Azarenka to win the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix in Stuttgart.
Sharapova had been soundly beaten twice this season by Azarenka, but the Russian made no mistake as she grabbed a 6-1 6-4 victory to claim her first title of the year.
The three-time grand slam champion is looking to complete a career Grand Slam at Roland Garros, and she saw off three of the world's top-five players en route to her 25th career title.
Having saved match point in a tight quarter-final encounter against world No. 5 Sam Stosur, Sharapova beat Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova in straight sets on Saturday to set up a finale featuring the world's top two players.
Sharapova was second best to Azarenka in the Australian Open and Indian Wells finals earlier this year, but on her debut in Stuttgart, the former world No. 1 hit 31 winners to just 13 unforced errors as she dominated proceedings from the outset.
An early break got her firmly on track and she never looked troubled on her serve as she raced through the opening set. A single break of serve in the second set was enough, as Sharapova fired eight aces and dropped just 17 points on serve in a confidence-boosting win on the clay.
"This was such a tough tournament with such difficult opponents, so I'm just happy to be the champion," Sharapova said. "I came to Europe this year a bit earlier than I usually do. I added this to my schedule and was going to use it as a warm-up tournament for the clay court season. But maybe I should start doing it every year since it's obviously working for me."