Wild card Martina Hingis crushed top seed Maria Sharapova 6-3, 6-1 Saturday to advance to the final of the Pan Pacific Open, where she will face Russia’s Elena Dementieva.
Hingis marshaled much of the play from the center of the baseline, her rapid returns making defending champion Sharapova use her long legs to chase the ball — usually in vain.
“I just tried to make her move and change the pace — the strategy was just to get the ball back as quick as you can, as the surface is very fast,” Hingis said.
Dementieva booked her spot in Sunday’s final by beating compatriot Anastasia Myskina 6-4, 3-6, 6-4.
Hingis made Sharapova pay for saying the Swiss star’s serve was her weakness by crashing in two aces in quick succession to clinch the first set.
“Serving aces out of nowhere — when you don’t usually serve aces — comes with confidence. That’s the only explanation I have,” a shell-shocked Sharapova said.
The Russian’s game collapsed in the second set, the out-of-sorts world No. 4 forced into a number of errors as Hingis rolled back the years with the kind of high-tempo display that produced five Grand Slams in the late 1990s.
“It feels like being back in time,” Hingis said.
Hingis needed just one match point, her punishing return from Sharapova’s second serve forcing a backhand that went long.
Former world No. 1 Sharapova had no answer to the onslaught from Hingis.
“She was picking the ball up very early. She was able to pick up my deep shots quickly on the rise and use my pace (on the ball) to her advantage,” Sharapova said.
“I could have fought a bit harder in the second set. I didn’t have the fighting spirit like I usually do.”
In contrast, Hingis’ aggressive play was imbued with a renewed confidence.
The 25-year-old admitted her injury enforced three-year break has given her a psychological edge she previously lacked.
“I’m stronger in my head,” she said.
“I’m looking at things from a different perspective. I knew I had some game in me, but knew it’s up to me what I make of it.
“I’m very happy that I still have some potential,” Hingis said.
The former world No. 1, currently ranked 117th, will crack the top 50 if she wins the final.
Hingis won this event in 1997, ’99, 2000 and ’02. She made her comeback from injury at the start of this year, reaching the last four in her comeback tournament and getting to the quarterfinals of the Australian Open before winning the mixed doubles there with India’s Mahesh Bhupati.
The winner on Sunday of the WTA-sanctioned Pan Pacific will walk off with a 23.3 million yen ($196,900) cash prize.