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Douglas Robson, USA TODAY Sports says:

The favorite when defending champion Serena Williams toppled out in the second round, Sharapova virtually willed her way to the title.

I think in this context willed is the simple past of the verb “to will” (not the modal “will”). Yet I can’t figure out from the dictionary which sense is more appropriate.

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    I think this will express strong desire or determination. According to your link, I think "will2", senses 9 and 10 are quite close to the intended meaning. – Damkerng T. Jun 8 '14 at 9:16
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    @DamkerngT. You got it - post it! – StoneyB on hiatus Jun 8 '14 at 13:51
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I think this will expresses strong desire or determination. According to your link (Dictionary.com), I think will 2, senses 9 and 10 are quite close to the intended meaning.

will2
verb (used with object), willed, will·ing.
9. to decide, bring about, or attempt to effect or bring about by an act of the will: He can walk if he wills it.
10. to purpose, determine on, or elect, by an act of will: If he wills success, he can find it.

The next paragraphs in that post (USA TODAY) make it quite clear that she really needed a strong will to succeed in this French Open.

She was pushed to three sets in her last four matches but never folded, always finding a solution and an extra gear. [...] Against Halep, she needed to go the distance again.

The final match was 3 hours and 2 minutes long, and obviously not easy, but she prepared herself for it as she said a few days before the match,

"I would love to win those matches in two sets, but I always feel like I put in the work to be ready to play whatever it takes. If it takes three hours to win the match in three sets, I will be ready for that."

As an aside, the phrase "verb one's way to ..." is also interesting. It seems like you can apply almost any verb to the phrase. For example, besides something obvious like making your way to your bedroom, you can sleep your way to the top, work your way to success, trade your way to financial freedom, laugh your way to a better marriage, talk your way to the top, think your way to a better life, and obviously, will your way to the title.

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The literal meaning is that Sharapova reached the title by a sustained act of willpower—that is, by a mental act having direct control over the results of the tournament. If you try, by mental exertion alone, to move a glass across a table without touching it, that is the sense of to will intended here.

However, this is a deliberately exaggerated, figurative description, as indicated by the word virtually. Of course the author doesn't mean that Sharapova really willed her way to the title; such a thing is not possible. The figurative sentence exaggerates a more ordinary sort of willpower shown by Sharapova, described in the following paragraphs: she found strength during long, exhausting matches ("an extra gear"—more figurative language); she overcame an early setback ("broken in the opening game") by "lifting her level" (responding to the setback by playing more skillfully); and she never let up the pressure on her opponent.

The most relevant senses at dictionary.com are:

 12. to influence by exerting will power: She was willed to walk the tightrope by the hypnotist.

 13. to exercise the will: To will is not enough, one must do.

What's really being described does happen to fit under some of the other senses given there, like numbers 9 and 10, but those aren't the most relevant senses of the word (or else there'd be no need to say virtually). But those senses are still relevant. This is loose, figurative language, summarizing some more-specific facts that follow. It doesn't have a completely precise meaning.

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