World No 2 Maria Sharapova saved her best performance of the week for last when she successfully defended her Stuttgart Grand Prix title with a 6-4, 6-3 victory over second seed Li Na of China to kick off her clay-court season in style on Sunday.
Sharapova, who had needed three sets in all her previous rounds in Stuttgart, found it easier against Li, taking revenge for her Australian Open straight-sets semi-final defeat to the Chinese.
"I thought I would play three sets today. Li is a great opponent. I knew it would be one of the toughest matches because she had a great week," said a beaming Sharapova before stepping into a luxury sports car, a gift from the tournament sponsors.
"I was very fortunate to be in this position today," said the 26-year-old, who has also won the title in Indian Wells this year, in a courtside interview.
"Our head-to-head is pretty tight. She beat me in Australia and she beat me pretty well so I wanted revenge."
The top seed, her loud grunts echoing around the stadium, snatched a break at the start, with a sizzling backhand down the line that left Li stranded.
World No 5 Li, who has won one title this year, sent a crosscourt backhand into the net to give the Russian another break and allow her to go 4-1 up.
The Australian Open finalist bounced back in the next game and grabbed her own first break when Sharapova sent a forehand long after a long rally.
Sharapova was in no mood for adventures, however, and quickly established a double break cushion, then served out the first set on her first opportunity when Li sank a return into the net after another well-placed serve.
The pair traded blows until Sharapova earned another break point and went 4-3 up.
With a superb first-serve figure of 76 percent throughout the game, she kept her opponent pinned to the back and earned her second title of the year when Li double-faulted on the first match point.
Photograph: Michael Dalder/Reuters