Sharapova serves notice

Times Staff Writer

CARLSBAD -- Maria Sharapova hasn't won a tournament this year. Even so, she's ranked second in the world, she is the defending U.S. Open champion, she packs the stands and she will be the favorite to defend her Acura Classic title today.

Top-seeded Sharapova was quick to subdue third-seeded fellow Russian Anna Chakvetadze, 6-3, 6-2, Saturday afternoon at the La Costa Resort. The 69-minute victory allowed Sharapova plenty of time to hit the nearby beach and play on her boogie board, she said. Resort living suits Sharapova.

In today's 2 p.m. final, Sharapova will play 11th-seeded Patty Schnyder of Switzerland. It took Schnyder until her seventh match point to secure her 7-6 (4), 6-0 semifinal victory over ninth-seeded Elena Dementieva Saturday night. Sharapova holds a 5-1 career edge on the 28-year-old Schnyder and has won the last four matchups.

Since losing to Venus Williams, 6-1, 6-3, in the fourth round at Wimbledon, and because she has struggled with a sore right shoulder all year, Sharapova, with help from hitting partner and co-coach Mike Joyce, has spent the last three weeks tidying up her service motion, making it more compact.

"Mike tried serving like I did before and he said he almost twisted his arm off," Sharapova said. "Actually, when I had a back problem a couple of years ago a doctor in Cleveland said he was very surprised I don't have a lot more shoulder problems."

This adjustment is still a work in progress. When she served for the match at 5-1 in the second set, Sharapova double faulted twice.

By that time, though, her opponent was barely able to move. Chakvetadze had won consecutive tournaments in Cincinnati and Stanford and needed 2 1/2 hours Friday night to subdue Williams. Her left leg was cramping by the end.

"I felt very tired," Chakvetadze said. "Maria played very well and hit a lot of winners but I couldn't run. I was not able to fight like I did yesterday."

When Chakvetadze came to the court Saturday her dress was wrinkled and her swinging arm was dead. She couldn't make her feet move and most of the points she scored resulted from Sharapova mistakes.

Sharapova took the first set by breaking Chakvetadze's serve, winning the set when Chakvetadze sent a languid forehand into the net.

In the second set, Sharapova had to save a break point in the first game, but she won 11 of her first 12 first-serve points. Meanwhile, the hot afternoon sun was driving Chakvetadze to huddle under whatever patch of shade she could find.

Chakvetadze's missing stamina seemed to flatten even Sharapova's enthusiasm. "I didn't feel as sharp as I did in previous matches," Sharapova said. "Especially in the beginning of the match I was making a lot of unforced errors off the return."

As for the evolution of her serve, Sharapova said it was not earth-shattering news.

"Through their careers you see a lot of players making changes, little changes," she said. "I'm not a finished product; I'm a work in progress. I'm not changing something to win tournaments now but changing to win more Grand Slams in the future."

This is Schnyder's fifth appearance at this tournament and, win or lose, it already is her best finish here. The last time she played Sharapova was at the French Open. Sharapova won, 3-6, 6-4, 9-7, in the quarterfinals, but Schnyder served for the match three times, and she said the loss only makes her confident about today.

"That shows I can give her some trouble," she said. "I'm really on now. I'm not missing."


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