Sharapova still hungry to fulfil Miami dream


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The Independent Online

It is four years since Maria Sharapova last won a Grand Slam title, but with every passing week the 24-year-old Russian is proving that her hunger for success remains undiminished. Having lost in the finals at both the Australian Open and Indian Wells, the world No 2 will aim to go one better today when she faces Agnieszka Radwanska, with the Miami title at stake.

This will be Sharapova's fourth appearance in the final of a tournament she attended every year as a child. Her father used to bring her to Crandon Park from their nearby base at Bradenton to watch the likes of Monica Seles and Yevgeny Kafelnikov.

Sharapova lost to Kim Clijsters in the 2005 final, to Svetlana Kuznetsova in 2006 and to Victoria Azarenka last year. Fortunately for the Russian – and for Radwanska – Azarenka was knocked out in this week's quarter-finals by Marion Bartoli. If you discount Sharapova's defeat to Angelique Kerber in Paris last month, Azarenka is the only player who has beaten either of today's finalists this year. The world No 1 beat Sharapova in Melbourne and Indian Wells and beat Radwanska in Sydney, Melbourne, Doha and Indian Wells.

Radwanska is in the form of her life. The 23-year-old Pole's 6-4, 6-2 semi-final success over a limping Bartoli, who suffered a thigh injury, was her 25th victory this year. Already up to a career-best No 4 in the world rankings, she could soon be breathing down the neck of Petra Kvitova, the No 3.

Sharapova reached the final with a 4-6, 6-2, 6-4 victory over Caroline Wozniacki. The Russian kept going for her shots against the former world No 1, who is one of the best retrievers in the game but lacks the power to hurt most opponents. Sharapova made 46 unforced errors but hit 55 winners. Wozniacki made 25 errors but struck only 13 winners.

"Being aggressive is really the key," Sharapova said afterwards. "If you let her play many, many balls, she's such a great mover around the court and she can be out here for many hours – and that's not really my game."

Sharapova had been in command of the first set, only to lose five games in a row as she struggled with her serve, which has been a weakness ever since her return from shoulder surgery. However, the Russian quickly regrouped. "After losing a few straight games I could easily have let my concentration go and I could easily have just gone down in the second set," Sharapova said. "But I really stepped it up again. I went out there and started being aggressive. I didn't stop after I put myself in a good position. I'm extremely pleased that I pulled it out today."

Wozniacki admitted: "Maria started off really well and played aggressively. She played some good tennis out there. I tried to do my best and it just wasn't enough."

Sharapova has an excellent record against Radwanska, having won all six of their most recent meetings, though the Pole is a much improved player of late. Since the end of the US Open she has won titles in Tokyo, Beijing and Dubai.

In the men's semi-finals last night Andy Murray was playing Rafael Nadal while Novak Djokovic was facing Juan Monaco. The final will be played tomorrow.