A towering image of Ana Ivanovic loomed on the big screen over her shoulder while the window of opportunity was closing right before Maria Sharapova's eyes.
In a battle of former world No. 1 players, Ivanovic spent nearly two sets treating Sharapova's second serve like road kill and cracked a backhand return that seemed certain to create the break and give her a one set, 4-2 lead.
Instead, Sharapova conjured magic and made the crisis—and a year-long title drought—disappear.
Streaking to her left, Sharapova was off the doubles alley when she blasted a brilliant running backhand winner down the line to ignite a furious charge. Commanding the center of the court and competing with more ferocity, Sharapova reeled off 11 of the final 13 games, rallying for a 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 triumph to capture her third consecutive Stuttgart title.
Playing for her third title of the season, an aggressive Ivanovic was incandescent at the outset. Dancing around her backhand to dictate with her forehand, Ivanovic broke to open and backed up the break at love. Sharapova had three game points in a thrill ride of a fifth game that featured one wild rally so pulsating the crowd erupted in appreciative roars during the middle of it. But Ivanovic continued to pound her returns and when the Russian dragged a forehand wide, Ivanovic had her third straight break and a 5-0 dream start.
Though that scoreline screams beat down, the reality was a fierce slug-fest: Six of the first seven games blazed to deuce. Sharapova dug in and drove a backhand off the back edge of the baseline for 2-5. A skittish Ivanovic spun her first double fault of the match into net, surrendering serve at love and suddenly it was 5-3. Ivanovic is a more determined defensive player these days — she's more adept playing combinations to prolong points — and applied that skill to close the opening set. Extending the point with a stretch forehand, Ivanovic regained her balance and fired a forehand pass crosscourt for two more set points. When Sharapova's backhand sailed wide, Ivanovic had the 50-minute opener — and history on her side. The first-set winner prevailed in all nine of their prior encounters.
During the first changeover of the second set, Sharapova's coach, Sven Groeneveld, who guided Ivanovic to the 2008 Roland Garros title, urged his charge to step into the court and compete with more energy.
"You're playing for a freaking title here! Come on. This is what you work for. Let's go!" Groeneveld said.
Treating second serves with pure disdain, the ninth-seeded Serbian won 15 of the first 17 points played on the Sharapova second serve in breaking for a 3-1 second-set advantage.
Defiance is a Sharapova asset. When fully invested, she couldn't give a damn what you think about her shrieks or how many winners her opponent has hit, she's too busy battling for the point and belting the ball with damaging ambition. Dialing up the pace and depth of her strokes and defending that second serve with more vigor, Sharapova won four straight games for 5-3. Ivanovic stopped her slide with a three-ace game for 4-5.
Serving for the set, Sharapova hit her first double fault since the quarterfinals to fall to 30-all, then swooped forward drilling a bold forehand drive volley winner for set point and sealing the set when Ivanovic buried a backhand return into the net.
Winning a set from Sharapova is tough; winning the third set from the Russian when a title is riding on the outcome is as easy as swiping the Porsche parked behind the corner of the court without the keys. Sharapova, who carried a 126-41 career record in three-setters into the decider, rocketed a forehand return winner down the line to break for a 1-0 lead in the decider.
The sixth seed imposed her game, serving 73 percent and winning 12 of 15 points played on her serve in the decider. Drilling one final forehand return dagger down the line to close a two hour, three-minute comeback, Sharapova raised her Stuttgart record to 13-0, while scoring her seventh straight win over Ivanovic. Eight days after celebrating her 27th birthday, Sharapova shows no signs of slowing down, clinching her 30th career title and the keys to that Porsche in the process.