No time for jokes for Sharapova

Maria Sharapova.

One exchanged laughs and smiles with her colleagues, while the other kept to herself, possibly focused on the task ahead.

No, this was not a typical episode of office politics between bitter colleagues but, rather, it was the WTA Finals singles draw ceremony.

While Ana Ivanovic gamely joked around and acknowledged the other tennis stars, Maria Sharapova put on her game face the whole time.

When asked what they had been up to since arriving in the Lion City, it wasn't hard to distinguish which one of women's tennis' two darlings was in a better mood.

While Ivanovic elicited some laughter from fans when she pointed out how she ended up taking a nap after initially planning to go sightseeing in the city earlier in the day, there was none of that from nine-time Grand Slam champion Sharapova.

"It's been quite boring actually. I've just been practising the whole time ahead of the Finals," said the Russian.

The reasons for her single-mindedness are obvious.

Victory at the Singapore Indoor Stadium on Oct 26 will see her climb to first in the WTA rankings, allowing her to end the year as the top women's tennis player.

There is also an old score to settle. Sharapova has lost in 15 consecutive matches to Serena Williams since 2005 and there is no better time to break that unwanted record than now.

"The stats might not be in her favour, but Sharapova beat Williams before and she can do it again. The streak will be broken one day and it will happen in Singapore," said 21-year-old fan Seow Chin Keong.

While most of the talk centred around the WTA's big two, Williams faces a more immediate threat in Serbia's world No. 8 Ivanovic, who has won four singles titles this year.

With Eugenie Bouchard facing fitness issues along with Williams, Ivanovic's chances are looking good.

"She stands a good chance, after having ample rest when she pulled out of the Linz Open and withdrew from the Kremlin Cup earlier this month," said 19-year-old Ivanovic fan Natasha Hadi Chua.

"Well rested and good to go, I believe she is back in full swing now and ready to take on the other phenomenal players."

With world No. 1 Williams the player to beat, all eyes will be on whoever takes to the court against her.

As the players smiled and gathered together for a photo shoot when the ceremony came to an end, Sharapova and Williams stood separated by the trophy.

It's on.

This article was first published on Oct 19, 2014.
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