Serena rallies past Sharapova in Sony final


KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. — Serena Williams danced to the crowd’s roar, spinning and grinning, hopping and waving, then spinning some more.

If her victory celebration on the stadium court seemed well-rehearsed, it was. She earned a record sixth Key Biscayne women’s title Saturday by beating familiar foil Maria Sharapova 4-6, 6-3, 6-0 at the Sony Open.

Sharapova set a new standard for futility in finals. She completed a career Grand Slam by winning the French Open last year, and she won at Indian Wells two weeks ago, but she’s now 0-5 in Key Biscayne finals.

Sharapova played nearly flawless tennis for an hour before her serve and ground strokes began to lose steam. Williams swept the last 10 games and faltered only during the trophy ceremony.

“I felt good today,” she told the crowd with the smile. “It’s so good to be No. 6 now — I mean, the six-time — oh, gosh. Thank you.”

At 31, the No. 1-ranked Williams became the oldest female champion at Key Biscayne. She won the tournament for the first time since 2008 and surpassed Steffi Graf, a five-time champion.

“Serena played a great match,” Sharapova said. “I’m sure we’ll be playing a few more times this year.”

Sharapova didn’t sound thrilled by the prospect, with good reason. She has lost 11 consecutive matches against Williams and hasn’t beaten her since 2004.

The men’s finalists are familiar foes, too. Today, 2009 champion Andy Murray will play frequent practice partner David Ferrer, who is trying to become the first Spaniard to win the men’s title.

The women’s final began at high noon in sunny, mild weather, and the quality of shot making matched the conditions in the early going.

The aggressive style of both players made for slam-bang points, and the occasional long rallies had a near-capacity crowd gasping at their ferocity.

As they battled from the baseline, Sharapova built a lead by keeping Williams on the defensive, and she hit the line with a winner on consecutive points to break for a 3-2 advantage in the second set.

“I just was like, ‘Serena, are you really going to get to the final and not play up to your potential?’” Williams said. “I don’t think I was as energized as I could be.”

Then came the turnaround. Williams ratcheted up the power, began feasting on Sharapova’s tentative second serve and broke back at love. She then took advantage of two double-faults by Sharapova to break again.

Williams lives two hours away in Palm Beach Gardens, and she made herself right at home in the final set, losing only 10 points.

“That’s why she’s No. 1 in the world,” Sharapova said. “She’s really capable of doing that. I was controlling a lot of the points in the first set and the beginning of the second. Then toward the end, I wasn’t there.”

Williams’ late surge won cheers from the crowd, which included her sister, three-time champion Venus.