Can Sharapova finally nab a big title?


History says … Sharapova

Garber By Greg Garber

KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. -- First, in the spirit of full disclosure, I am going to suggest, Mr. Bodo, that you are operating here under a severe conflict of interest.

You have in the recent past referred to Agnieszka Radwanska as your "guilty pleasure." This, on the surface at least, does not sound like an appropriate writer-athlete relationship. But then, when I asked you what you meant, you elaborated with this: "Because she's so out of touch with today's game, which is why she's so fun to watch."

It's fun to live in the past, my friend -- those retro Ray-Ban sunglasses are hipper than hip, daddy-o -- but it's time to wake up and smell that delicious Cuban espresso. Maria Sharapova has beaten your girl seven of eight times -- and six in a row. That's a harsh reality even you cannot ignore.

Sure, Sharapova is streaky. She drifts in and out. Her serve in big spots makes me nervous. The second serve is absolutely terrifying.

Radwanska, I will admit, is a joy to watch. She's clever, crafty and has worked her herself all the way up to No. 4 in the world. After Victoria Azarenka, you can argue she's having the best season among WTA players.

But … in the three-plus years since undergoing career-threatening shoulder surgery, Sharapova has been hell-bent on a return to the top. She finds herself with a nice little opening here, with Kim Clijsters, Serena and Venus Williams aging less than gracefully, and youngsters Azarenka and Petra Kvitova just beginning to gain traction.

There is an opportunity here for Sharapova. A first title in Miami would be a terrific first step toward winning her first Grand Slam title -- Wimbledon? -- in more than four years.

Aggie will create a power outage

Bodo By Peter Bodo

KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. -- OK, Garber: The power suddenly went out Thursday night during the semifinal between Agnieszka Radwanska and Marion Bartoli, and I'm not just telling you that because you were already gone from the tournament and probably down at some South Beach club doing "The Robot."

I'm also suggesting that you can take that power outage as an omen for your pick to win the Miami final, No. 2 seed Maria Sharapova. She's got plenty of power and can light up any scoreboard when she's blasting those groundstrokes, but she can also fall out of sync unexpectedly and is always prone these days to cringe-inducing patches of terrible serving.

And against Radwanska, she'll be up against a player who's got a great talent for catching lightning bolts and sending them back, defused.

Sure, Sharapova has a 7-1 edge on Radwanska in the head-to-head matchups, and Sharapova already took care of Caroline Wozniacki, the highest-ranking counterpuncher in the WTA. But Wozniacki plays with a lot of pace and that feeds right into Sharapova's go-for-broke power game.

Wozniacki is great in hitting contests, but Radwanska knows how to change and slow down the pace, catch an opponent off guard with creative shots and ask a straight-ahead power player like Sharapova all the awkward questions.

I like Radwanska to nag and nip and worry Sharapova to death in this one, and have just one area of concern for the No. 4 seed: the threat Sharapova will pose to her serve. The other day against Wozniacki, Sharapova drilled some whistling returns, especially with the forehand. And Radwanska's serve is easily as vulnerable as Wozniacki's. But if Radwanska can keep Sharapova guessing and hit her spots with first serves, she'll bamboozle the favorite.