Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka faced each other in a final for the third time in 2012 in Stuttgart, Germany.

The Setting
 

Through March 2012, it appeared as if Azarenka was running away from the rest of the pack on the WTA Tour as the world No. 1 had claimed four titles already in the early part of the season, including her first Grand Slam championship at the Australian Open.

Leading the charge of the field trying to keep pace with the Belarusian was world No. 2 Sharapova. The three-time major winner had lost to Azarenka in two finals already: in Melbourne and Indian Wells, Calif.

Kicking off their clay-court campaigns in Stuttgart, both players reached the final in impressive fashion as each was forced to rally from the brink in the quarterfinals and dominating in their other matches.

The Final

In their head-to-head encounters, Azarenka carried a 5-3 lead against her more experienced opponent. However, Sharapova’s most recent win came in 2011 in Rome on clay, their only meeting on the surface to this point. Coming out of the gate serving rockets, with her heavy groundstrokes firing from both sides, the Russian blasted through the opener 6-1.

Through the first six games of  the second set, the two players stayed on even ground as both had to dig out of some difficulties on their serves. The crucial break Sharapova needed came in the seventh game, when Azarenka netted a backhand to go down 3-4. Sharapova threatened to break again as Azarenka served to stay in the match down 3-5, but the world No. 1 fended her off. However, in the next game, Sharapova quickly went up 40-0 and on her first match point, drew a return error from her foe as she captured her first title of the season.

Notable Numbers

1

This was the first final since the tournament’s move to Stuttgart in 2006 that featured two Grand Slam champions.

3

Sharapova’s fourth career clay-court title came under a third different type of playing condition: Her first was on green clay, two were on red clay outdoors and this one was won indoors.

5

Azarenka suffered her fifth loss in a clay-court final. Her first title on the surface came a year earlier in Marbella, Spain.

Follow Van on Twitter: @Van_Sias