I watched the match with a friend at the (in)famous gay sports bar Nellie's in Washington, D.C. It was clear from the very beginning that Serena was not playing her best tennis. Although she won her first service game easily, she also allowed Sharapova to hold her first service game much more easily than usual, missing 3 service returns in that first game. But the problems showed up quickly in the next game. Serena started missing serves by many feet, not inches. The game ended up going to 8 or 9 deuces, with Serena eventually saving two break ponts and holding serve. However, it was a pyrrhic victory because Serena was then broken in her next service game and although she was able to break back she again lost her serve and eventually the set. Astonishingly, that was the first set of tennis that Sharapova had won versus Serena in nearly 5 years (the middle set of their quarterfinal at the Charleston clay tournament).
For the first hour of the match Sharapova was moving better than Serena, the best she has ever looked on a court. She was getting to balls that Serena thought were winners and getting them back deep into the corners of the court, catching her opponent flat-footed. With that level of play Sharapova was up a set and a break, 6-4, 3-2 when suddenly Serena started smacking the ball, breaking back at love to even the second set. She started serving better and Sharapova served worse and suddenly Serena rattled off 3 more games to win the middle set. When she got a break early in the third set, and then another you knew the match was over, but in the end it turned out to be an incredible string of 10 consecutive games to win the match 4-6 6-3 6-0. She ended the match with 34 winners compared to 29 errors, but over the last two sets she had 20 winners and 11 errors (14 winners and 18 errors in the first set that she lost).
It was Serena's record 6th title in Miami, her 48th career title. She is now 12-2 versus Sharapova and has won 11 consecutive matches against the current World #2 player. Despite the loss (her 5th in a Miami final) she showed how much she has improved and that she has an elevated level she can bring against Serena. It was also her second consecutive final, having won the Indian Wells tournament two weeks ago.
Now the clay court season begins, where Sharapova is the reigning Roland Garros champion and was clearly the best clay court competitor in 2012. Serena lost in the first round and is only trying to not repeat that horrifying performance this year.
Bring it on!