Dominant Sharapova ready to shed runner-up tag in Miami

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Maria Sharapova knows Miami’s Crandon Park Tennis Centre well. As a youngster learning her tennis trade at the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Florida, the Miami Masters event was an annual opportunity to catch some of her idols in action.

And while, as a pro, her visits to Key Biscane have been just as regular, they’ve not been quite as memorable as they would have been as a young and impressionable apprentice. Sharapova has made the final here on three previous occasions, in 2005, 2006 and 2011, but is yet to lift the trophy.

Today, as the 8/13 favourite, should see her finally bring that unwanted sequence come to an end. But it won’t be easy.

Her opponent, Poland’s Agnieska Radwanksa (5/4 to win), is in fine form and has risen to world number four in the world almost unnoticed this year.

She’s lost just four of her 24 matches in 2012, and all of those defeats came at the hands of arguably the only female playing better tennis at the moment, world number one Victoria Azarenka.

Azarenka has also handed Sharapova two of her three defeats this year, and both finalists are sure to take much confidence from seeing someone other than the Belarusian facing them today.

Radwanska’s 6-4 6-2 semi-final victory was over the player who dumped Azarenka out in the quarter-finals, Maria Bartoli, though that semi-final success was tempered by the fact a thigh injury prevented the Italian from giving a fair account of herself.

Sharapova, meanwhile, was forced to scrap, coming back from a set down to Caroline Wozniacki to win 4-6 6-2 6-4. In that match the powerful Sharapova hit 55 winners compared to her opponents 13, deserving her place in her third final this year.

Wozniacki was the perfect warm-up for the Russian in more ways than one, with her patient, delicate and consistent game very similar to that of Radwanksa’s, and far removed from Sharapova’s thundering strokes.

Much will rest on how the Pole deals with Sharapova’s serve, and history doesn’t bode well for Radwanska. In eight previous meetings she’s won just one, and has lost the last six, taking only two sets in the process.

It’s a damning stat and suggests Radwanska’s steady climb will be put to a temporary halt, as Sharapova looks to end her runner-up streak, and claim a cherished debut Miami title.

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