Stuttgart: Defending French Open champion Maria Sharapova claimed the Stuttgart WTA title on Sunday, beating China's Li Na 6-4, 6-3 in just over 90 minutes to get her clay-court season off to a winning start.
Having been taken to three-sets in all of her previous three matches here en route to the final, Sharapova saved her best tennis until last to defeat the Chinese in straight sets.
She broke Li twice in the first, but the Chinese managed to reply with a break of her own before Sharapova used the first of her three set points to take the first set.
The 26-year-old world number two then turned up the heat in the second set, breaking Li twice, while holding her own serve without due concern and her aggressive style paid off as she wrapped up victory in an hour and a half.
"I knew this was going to be the toughest match of the week, so I am really pleased with the way things worked out," said Sharapova, who had lost the previous meeting to Li in the semi-final of January's Australian Open.
"She has played good tennis all week and I am really happy to have won here again."
Having beaten Lucie Safarova, Ana Ivanovic and Angelique Kerber on the way to the final, Sharapova is now undefeated at Stuttgart on her second appearance at the clay-court tournament.
After seeing off Victoria Azarenka in last year's final, Sharapova then went on to win her fourth Grand Slam title at Roland Garros and she said she is happy to have got her clay-court season off to another good start.
"It definitely helped last year on the way to the French Open, it's good to bring back the same confidence on clay as last year," said Sharapova.
Li had won all her three matches in straight sets, seeing off qualifier Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, fifth-seed Petra Kvitova then qualifier Bethanie Mattek-Sands on her way to the final.
"Of course, it's always disappointing to lose in the final," said the 31-year-old Chinese.
"But it's my first clay-court tournament, so that's a good start to the season and I am looking forward to the rest of it.
"I was feeling a bit of pressure on her returns, which could use as she's playing very aggressively.
"I'll take some rest now before Madrid and work on a few things in Munich."
Li's defeat managed to avoid an unusual problem both for her and the tournament sponsors, Porsche.
Sharapova drove off in the brand-new sports car, which was courtside the whole week waiting for the winner, but with Li sponsored by Mercedes, her contract would have forbidden her taking part in the presentation had she won.
"I couldn't have driven the car," she said before quipping that was the true reason she had lost the final.