WTA Cincinnati Final: Maria Sharapova Outlasts Jelena Jankovic In Dramatic Three-Setter

CINCINNATI -- No. 4 seed Maria Sharapova took care of some unfinished business Sunday evening at the 2011 Western & Southern Open.

Sharapova, who had two match points against eventual champion Kim Clijsters in the final of the 2010 tournament, defeated No. 13 seed Jelena Jankovic 4-6, 7-6(3), 6-3 in the final of the 2011 event, edging out the title in a dramatic match that finished in two hours, 53 minutes.

Sharapova started the match the sharper of the two, winning four games in a row to race out to a 4-1 lead in the first set. But after a dispute with chair umpire Kader Nouni about how much time Sharapova was taking between points on return, Jankovic found her rhythm, and reeled off seven straight games, winning the first set 6-4, and taking a 2-0 advantage in the second.

But Sharapova gritted her way through, overcoming 27 unforced errors in the second set, taking it 7-6(3) in a tiebreak.

The third set started with both women returning far better than serving, resulting in six straight breaks to get the final frame to 3-3. Sharapova stopped the breakage holding for 4-3, and with Jankovic unable to follow suit, Sharapova finished off the final by holding again for 6-3.

The win moves Sharapova to first place in the WTA race rankings, meaning that she has had the most successful 2011 (rankings-wise) of any player on the WTA Tour.

Despite finishing runner up, the week is likely more important for Jankovic.

SBN: Overall you have to be pretty happy with your week here in Cincinnati, making the final as the 13th seed who no one was really looking at as a favorite going in.

Jelena Jankovic: Yeah, but you can never know. I'm pretty unpredictable. As you guys can know. I can always be its dark horse.

Um, yeah, I mean, if somebody told me I was going to play a final here, you know, I would right away sign the paper, because I wasn't doing well and lost in the first round in Toronto the week
before and haven't played matches since Wimbledon. So I was kind of, you know, rusty and didn't feel really comfortable and confident with my game.

I mean, you get that when you play a lot, when you keep winning matches, and that's what
happened to me here. I started off the tournament, got a couple rounds, and with each match I was getting better and better and my level of tennis was getting higher and higher.

I feel good about my game now. Obviously I can improve and get better. There are things that, you know, I've done well and haven't done well. But I will just work, work hard, and I look forward to playing my next tournament and playing, you know, obviously the US Open, which is my, you know, goal to do well out there, which is the most important one.

With other top players struggling with inconsistency and injury (and Serena Williams' absence to start the year), Sharapova's place atop the year-to-date 2011 rankings seems fitting. I asked her about her year, (and she sort of answered me after getting some solid mocking in).

SBN: With this title,and your previous title in Rome, and your Wimbledon final, you're now No. 1 in the year in the rankings race. Talk about how your year is going, obviously pretty well so far.

Maria Sharapova: You just answered your own question right there. (Laughter.) Is that a journalist mistake?

SBN: Probably.

Maria Sharapova: Obviously, to follow up on your answer (laughs), yeah, it's been a great year so far. It can always be better and can always be worse. So I'm definitely proud that I've gone further and better than I did last year.

It means a lot to me after a disappointing loss here last year. Of course to be in that position in the race it's always nice, because it's pretty much from the beginning of the year. So to be up there, it's nice.

Indeed. It's nice.

Stay tuned to SB Nation's coverage of the 2011 US Open Series at SBNation.com as well as on Twitter, @DailyForehand .

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