Sharapova Run Ragged as Kuznetsova Bags Title

ReutersKuznetsova celebrating on Saturday.
KEY BISCAYNE, Florida -- For 90 minutes, Svetlana Kuznetsova kept Maria Sharapova on the run, dashing from corner to corner in vain pursuit of a championship.

As a weary Sharapova found herself on the verge of defeat, she went scrambling yet again after a shot and exclaimed, "Ai-yi-yi."

The crowd laughed, and Kuznetsova won the exchange to reach match point. The former U.S. Open champion then finished with an ace for her first tournament title in 18 months, beating Sharapova 6-4, 6-3 Saturday at the Nasdaq-100 Open.

"I was not expecting this, but I was doing my best," Kuznetsova said. "I wanted this trophy badly."

Seeded 12th, she won the all-Russian final thanks to a superior serve and forehand, repeatedly driving Sharapova into one corner and then hitting a winner into the other.

Hans Deryk / Reuters

Sharapova dismayed on Saturday.

The No. 4-seeded Sharapova finished as runner-up at Key Biscayne for the second year in a row. She said she was "a little tired" after winning 11 consecutive matches this month, including the final at Indian Wells, California.

"Physically, it was very difficult to keep up with Svetlana today," Sharapova said. "I just wasn't physically ready to run down a lot of balls."

And what about the exclamation, "Ai-yi-yi?"

"At that point in the match," Sharapova said, "maybe if you laugh, something will happen."

During her semifinal victory over Tatiana Golovin, Sharapova drew jeers from the crowd when she took a toilet break perceived as gamesmanship after she failed to convert four match points.

There was no jeering during the final, but the crowd rooted for Kuznetsova from the start. She smiled when asked why.

"I don't want to get into that," she said. "I heard a lot about the match in the semifinals. ... For me, it's a bit unusual, to play Maria and have the crowd behind you."

Fans will have another underdog to cheer for Sunday: No. 6-seeded Ivan Ljubicic of Croatia, playing his first final in the United States at age 27. He'll face top-seeded Roger Federer, the defending champion.

Kuznetsova broke serve to go up 3-1 in the opening set and led the rest of the way. As Sharapova fell behind, a small plane with an advertising banner hovered over the stadium, compounding her unhappiness. She gestured in annoyance at least twice and complained to the chair umpire about the noisy plane.

"It only circled around about 50 times," Sharapova said. "Pretty weird."