Maria Sharapova is challenging Serena Williams for US Open favouritism after continuing her fine season with victory over Jelena Jankovic in the Cincinnati final.
The revitalised Russian will climb from seventh to No.4 in the world after overcoming Jankovic 4-6 7-6 (7-3) 6-3 for her second title of the year.
Finally over the shoulder injury that dogged her for the best part of two years, Sharapova will head to Flushing Meadows next week oozing confidence.
“It’s been a great year for me so far,” the Wimbledon runner-up said after going one better than last year’s finals loss to Kim Clijsters.
“It can always be better or worse. I’m definitely proud I’ve gone further than last year, after the disappointing loss here last year.”
With two-times defending champion Clijsters having withdrawn from the US Open starting on Monday because of an abdominal strain, Sharapova will fancy her chances of landing a second grand slam crown in New York. The 24-year-old reigned in 2006. Sharapova fended off seven break points in the last set alone against Jankovic to extend the Serb’s title drought to 17 months. Jankovic won in Cincinnati in 2009, but hasn’t claimed a championship since Indian Wells on March 21 last year.
“This match could have gone either way,” she said. “I had my chances. It showed the match is not over until you shake the hand.”
Jankovic shook hands and then sat in her chair after the match, biting a white towel while staring straight ahead, thinking about what had just happened.
The match ended when her baseline forehand sailed wide.
But despite the loss, Jankovic was upbeat. She came to Cincinnati feeling rusty and lacking confidence after playing few matches lately and having little success. “I’m pretty unpredictable,” she said. “If somebody told me I was going to play a final here, I would right away sign the paper.”