KEY BISCAYNE -- Finally, a sharper Maria Sharapova appeared on her way to ending a 10-match, 10-set, nine-year losing streak to a slow-starting Serena Williams in a marquee matchup of the top two players in the world in the Sony Open final on a sun-splashed Saturday afternoon.
Seemingly the only woman who can match Williams' power off the ground as well as their shared hatred for losing, Sharapova just completed a near-flawless return game with three screaming winners to take a set and 3-2 break lead over the 15-time Grand Slam champion.
Ah, Serena had her long-legged Russian foil just where she wanted her.
Williams, who had been wriggling out of holes all week, broke back at love before reeling off the last 10 games en route to a 4-6, 6-3, 6-0 victory for her record sixth Sony Open title to tighten her grip on the No. 1 ranking.
Williams surpasssed Steffi Graf's title record and she now has her sights on eclipsing Graf's husband, Andre Agassi, and his ATP-record six titles here. Also, at 31 years old and six months, Williams became the oldest Miami champion, surpassing Chris Evert by four months.
"I don't consistently do that and I definitely don't try to do it," Williams giggled about her weeklong Houdini-like escapes that included being a set and 1-4 down to Dominika Cibulkova in a round-of-16 victory.
"I'm mentally really tough. Ever since I was a kid I knew what I wanted to do and I don't stop, so whatever it takes to get there I always know I can lift my level."
The two exchanged blistering, line-scraping groundstrokes as well as alternating fist-pumps and gut-wrenching self-exhortations, with the 6-foot-2 Sharapova taking command with a service break at 4-4 of the first set when a sideline-to-sideline rally ended with a feeble forehand by Williams (one of her 20 unforced errors in the set).
"I feel like I was making so many errors and I was like, 'Serena, are you really going to get to the final and not play up to your potential?,' " said Williams, who won her 48th title and drove off in her white Rolls Royce $724,000 richer.
Williams flicked the power switch and took the break back at love for 3-3 to recapture the momentum. A couple of Sharapova's ill-timed double faults gave her another break for 5-3. Williams made just 12 unforced errors in the final two sets, while converting all seven break points. She crushed 35 winners to Sharapova's 13.
Sharapova, 25, had nothing left in the third set as she seemed worn down from Williams' pulverizing forehands as well as nearly a month of domination of hard courts that included the Indian Wells title.
"That's why she's No. 1 in the world," Sharapova said. "I was losing a little bit of pace on my ball which I think hurt me, and against a player like Serena, you can't really do that."
So Sharapova was unable to pull off the difficult Indian Wells-Miami sweep and remarkably, the four-time major champion is a five-time bridesmaid in Miami with no titles.
"It's tough to lose in this stage because you've worked so hard to get there," said Sharapova, who's 2-12 vs. Williams with her last win coming in 2004. "But it's a really nice stage to be at
"It was a step in the right direction and there's no doubt that we'll be playing many more times and no doubt I'll be able to beat her."
Perhaps the two will meet again at the French Open where Sharapova is the defending champion and Williams was stunned in the first round of a Slam last year for the only time of her career.
"Anywhere, it could be ice, grass clay," Williams laughed. "I don't care. Give me a racket and a ball, I'm ready." ___