By Andrew Stratton
Maria won her 13th game in Stuttgart and claimed the 3rd title in the process, but the final was anything but easy for the Russian superstar. She had to overcome a lot of adversity and recovered from a one set deficit against one of the best players in the WTA circuit. Ana Ivanovic began her ascension virtually at the same time as Sharapova and the two of them met in the final stages of prominent tournaments more than once.
Ana took the first set with relative ease and was credited with the first chance to win the match, after also taking a 3-1 lead in the second set. Most tennis players would succumb to this kind of pressure but not Sharapova, who staged an incredible comeback and won the next two sets without conceding more than two games. To me some extent, this match was representative for 2014, as Maria started the year rather slow, but gained traction in the last few months.
Ivanovic probably has a "Sharapova complex" by now, after losing 7 of the last 10 games and missed out on a rare opportunity to win the game. Everything changed when Maria started to target her backhand, as from that moment on, Ana conceded the initiative and it all went downhill. It would be farfetched to claim that the Russian player allowed her opponent to dominate the first set, just to gather information and use it against it in the second half of the game.
On the other hand, it is only fair to assume that Maria, being a keen observer of details realized that a radical shift in strategy would deliver results. This is the sort of in-play adjustment that WSOP Texas Hold'em poker players routinely do and it relies on their ability to set up traps and create a certain table image. By giving up small pots in the first stage of a tournament or sit'n gos, you get to learn more about the predisposition of opponents for certain plays.
This strategy pays off on the long run, because once you get a read on a player you can easily offset all previous loses and come on top. In tennis, this approach works better if the game is played in a 3 out of 5 sets format, since giving up a set won't have a catastrophic effect. Maria took a chance by using a broad range of plays in the first set, but in the end it was the right thing to do, as she chose the winning tactic in the subsequent sets and prevailed.
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