Maria Sharapova's serve went far away again Saturday night, into the net, into the backstop, to places where a serve should not go. And unlike Friday night, the rest of Sharapova's game followed.
Six tournaments into her comeback from shoulder surgery, Sharapova, a three-time winner of major championships, was undone both by double faults and unsteady ground strokes.
She lost 6-2, 4-6, 6-3, to the 10th-seeded Flavia Pennetta of Italy in the semifinals of the L.A. Women's Tennis Championships. Pennetta was the 2008 runner-up here, losing to Dinara Safina in the final.
Pennetta, 27, will play Samantha Stosur of Australia in today's 2 p.m. final at the Home Depot Center. The 25-year-old Stosur, who has never won a Sony Ericsson WTA Tour singles title, made it to a tournament final for the fifth time after beating sore-footed Sorana Cirstea of Romania, 6-3, 6-2.
Sharapova had 16 double faults Saturday after having 13 (11 in the second set) Friday.
In the audience Saturday night was Sharapova's first American-based coach, Robert Lansdorp.
After watching Sharapova struggle so much with her serve for the second night in a row, Lansdorp said he could only shake his head. "She's fighting so hard and she's such a competitor, but I don't understand this serve," he said.
Sharapova and her current coach, Michael Joyce, have worked to rebuild Sharapova's service motion by shortening the stroke in the months since the 22-year-old had shoulder surgery last October.
This is Sharapova's sixth tournament back on tour, and the uncertain progress of the serve seems also to have put kinks in her punishing ground game.
"You can see her lack of faith in the serve is taking its toll," Lansdorp said. "The service problem is affecting everything else."
Saturday night's statistics seemed to affirm Lansdorp's impression. Besides her 16 double faults in the two-hour, four-minute match, Sharapova made 61 unforced errors to only 23 by Pennetta, though Sharapova said the high number of mistakes came because she was trying to be aggressive.
"Of course she's got to be frustrated," Pennetta said of Sharapova. "Normally she's one of the best servers on the tour, and now she has some problem with the serve."
Sharapova said she planned some "tweaks" in her evolving service motion and was looking forward to some rest after playing eight matches in the last 12 days here and at Stanford.
After surviving her quarterfinal match Friday night, Sharapova came out with protective tape on her right shoulder Saturday.
Sharapova said the shoulder was "fatigued," though not painful. "I needed a little bit of support," she said. "Just overall fatigue. I didn't feel physically fresh from the beginning of the match. I was surprised it went to the third set. I had my opportunities, but I couldn't close it out."
Pennetta, who said she is usually more comfortable on European clay courts, said she had no good explanation for why she has done so well here the last two years. "I don't think I won a match the first five times I played here," she said.
Sharapova wasn't the only hurting semifinalist either.
Cirstea was dealing with an inflamed foot tendon that had reduced her to tears Friday and kept her awake in her hotel bed into the night.
"My foot was bothering me for sure," Cirstea said. "To beat her I had to be 100%. When I did a wrong movement it did affect me a little bit. But I had no thoughts about pulling out today. I deserved to be in the semifinals, and it was a good week for me; I take away all the positive stuff."
Stosur said that she was pleased with her level of play, whether Cirstea was hurting or not. "I think I made it pretty hard for her," Stosur said. "I never let her get into the match. I had a big variety on my serve today."
It took Stosur only about five minutes to seize an immediate 3-0 lead in the one hour, two-minute match, and she didn't face a break point in the first set.
at Home Depot Center:
Samantha Stosur vs.
2 p.m., ESPN2