Caroline Wozniacki put a huge dent in Maria Sharapova’s bid to finish the season as world number one by overcoming some distracting bright lights to down the Russian 7-6(4) 6-7(5) 6-2 in their marathon opening group match of the WTA Finals on Tuesday.
Following the tense three hour 13 minute affair, Poland’s Agnieszka Radwanska went into Wednesday to claim a 6-2 6-3 win over Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova to join Wozniacki at the top of the White Group standings.
The Dane had taken advantage of Li Na’s retirement to grab the final qualifying spot in the eight-woman field but it was world number two Sharapova who looked the outsider on Singapore’s purple hardcourt, as some stunning winners were lost in a wave of 76 unforced errors.
The third game of a gripping match encapsulated the night for French Open champion Sharapova — three perfect forehand winners to go 0-40 up on Wozniacki’s serve, before she blasted balls wide or long to let the Dane off the hook and hold for a 3-0 lead.
Sharapova, whose previous match was a victory over Kvitova in the final of the Beijing Open earlier this month, found her feet and range and fought back to lead, before she creaked under the pressure with two more double faults and was broken when serving for the set at 5-4.
It went to a tiebreaker, which Sharapova led 4-2, but once again she collapsed at the crucial moment, allowing the Dane to storm back with the next four points, before the Russian offered another double fault to gift-wrap the set 7-4.
Pumped up, Wozniacki broke in the first game of the second set but lost the advantage in the sixth game after becoming bothered by a light issue in the Indoor Stadium.
A flashing bulb stopped one point, with the Dane then unhappy about some new lights coming on and demanding the chair umpire switch off the offending lamps.
Having blown a chance to serve out the match at 5-3, she was raging at the umpire again after being the victim of a poor line call and with no challenges left in the bank.
She regained focus, though, to force a tiebreak, but fell behind early and Sharapova claimed it 7-5 on her second set point.
The service breaks and wild shots continued early in the third before a tired-looking Sharapova folded as the match went into a third hour.
Wozniacki broke to go 5-2 up before another misfired backhand from Sharapova went long to complete the win.
“In the third set I feel I stepped it up a little bit, went a bit more for my shots, I am happy to have won,” a beaming Wozniacki said.
“Just a lot more unforced errors than she did,” Sharapova acknowledged.
Sharapova, who won the season-ending tournament in 2004 after losing a group stage game, can still finish the year as number one but must make it through to Sunday’s final to stand any hope of overhauling Serena Williams, who began her Red Group campaign with a straight sets win over Ana Ivanovic on Monday.
Radwanska had a similarly straightforward opening encounter, with Kvitova all at sea in their night match that finished at 0100 local time.
The Czech left-hander racked up 42 unforced errors as she pushed for the lines to try and find a hole in Radwanska’s supreme court coverage.
Kvitova finally found a way to break serve to go 3-2 up in the second set, but any hope of a recovery was quickly extinguished by the world number six, who stormed through with another four-game burst to seal victory.