Istanbul - Russian tennis superstar Maria Sharapova withdrew from the season ending WTA Championships here on Wednesday after losing 7-6, (7/4), 6-4 to China's Li Na.
The WTA confirmed Sharapova - who has been enfeebled of late with an ankle injury - had decided to quit the tournament after two successive defeats, robbing the organisers of their biggest drawcard and the player of the chance of regaining the title after a seven year gap and also finishing world No 1.
For French Open champion Li it was a great relief as she recorded her first win in two months.
Li has been suffering from knee problems which has restricted her to a mere seven victories since her history-making triumph in Paris in June when she became the first Chinese player to win a Grand Slam singles title.
Sharapova did try and take some positives from her appearance here.
"I just have to be pleased that I recovered quickly enough to allow myself a chance of playing here," she said.
She both moved better and hit the ball better than during Tuesday’s loss to Samantha Stosur, the US Open champion, and sometimes hit the ball with enough pace and consistency to suggest she might beat Li.
However she missed good chances of getting into a dominant position when she failed to convert two points for a double break and a 5-2 lead in the first set, and then let slip a lead of 4-0 in the tie-break.
Sharapova did though play some full-blooded rallies with Li, who took some bold risks to grab the initiative, which caused both players to display some great fighting qualities in the second set.
Li admitted that her cofidence had taken a bit of a dive since her moment of glory in Paris.
"Of course it’s a little bit different from the French Open, but you know this is sport. This is tennis. You have to win, you have to lose," she said.
Nevertheless she looked very pleased to win, and if she wins again against Azarenka on Thursday, she will have a good chance of qualifying for the semi-finals.
Azarenka, who won the title in Luxembourg last week, again showed herself in good form, by earlier outplaying Stosur 6-2, 6-2, and maintained her 100% winning record against the Australian.
The Belarusian’s ground strokes were too heavy and too consistent, and she may also be pleased with some very good statistics on her serving, one aspect of her game she has most been trying to improve.
"I didn’t really expect to play that well in my first match," Azarenka said.
"But I was glad that I could and was really dominant from beginning to end."
The only time her mood darkened was when she fielded yet another of the many queries she has received about the level of noise she makes when she hits the ball, the questioner alleging that world No 1 Caroline Wozniacki wished she would stop.
"Caroline never spoke to me about that, and I don’t really have a comment about that," Azarenka replied.
"It’s the way I played since I was eight, so I can’t change it, and I ain’t gonna."
Results from second day of season ending WTA Championships on Wednesday (x denotes seeding):
Vera Zvonareva (RUS x6) bt Caroline Wozniacki (DEN x1) 6-2, 4-6, 6-3
Li Na (CHN x5) bt Maria Sharapova (RUS x2) 7-6 (7/4), 6-4
Victoria Azarenka (BLR x4) bt Samantha Stosur (AUS x7) 6-2, 6-2