WASHINGTON, June 6, 2018 (by Michael Dickens)
When Garbiñe Muguruza and Maria Sharapova walked out on Court Philippe Chatrier to play their quarterfinal match in the French Open on Wednesday afternoon, it had the marquee appeal everyone had been looking for all week in Paris. Much was anticipated of this matchup between former Roland Garros champions and former World No. 1s.
Both came in well rested and eager. On Monday, the No. 28 seed Sharapova advanced without even playing a point as her opponent, Serena Williams, withdrew from their round of 16 match with a right pectoral injury. Meanwhile, No. 3 seed Muguruza moved into the quarterfinals after playing just two games when her opponent Lesia Tsurenko retired with a knee injury.
At the start, little did anyone realize that over the next 70 minutes, the 24-year-old Muguruza would put on a master class in which she out-hit, out-ran and out-classed Sharapova, and lost just three games. Her 6-2, 6-1 win – the Spaniard’s first career win over the 31-year-old Sharapova in her fourth try – was a comprehensive victory. It advanced her to Friday’s semifinals and moved her a step closer to building upon her 2016 Roland Garros success.
Just five points separated Muguruza and Sharapova after the opening set. However, Muguruza widened the margin to 19 points after the one-sided second set. In the final result, she won 72 percent (18 of 25) of her first serve points, converted six of 12 break-point opportunities and hit 10 winners. Meanwhile, Sharapova finished with six double-faults, won just 19% (5 of 26) of her second-serve points and committed 27 unforced errors. Muguruza outpointed Sharapova 57-38.
As the match unfolded, Sharapova’s strategy was to go after the lines and angles while Muguruza kept things disciplined and contained. The Spaniard opted for what one commentator described as “heavy but high-margin hitting” to beat Sharapova with her pace of shot. Smart tactics, indeed, exhibited by Muguruza. She won the first set 6-2 and looked completely dialed in. Muguruza finished her shots, kept her errors to a minimum and, just as importantly, showed confidence. Meanwhile, Sharapova began by serving three double-faults and, although she saved two early break points, she couldn’t save a third and was broken in the first game. It set a tone for things to come.
Next, Muguruza came out and began the second set just like she did the first: with a service break. In a battle of the shrieking hitters, it was Sharapova who kept being pushed further behind the baseline by Muguruza. However, the Russian broke back in the next game to level the set. Then, Muguruza gained another break and a hold thanks to three unforced errors off Sharapova’s racket to take a 3-1 lead, needing to win just three more games to advance.
As the matched wound down, it became apparent to all that Sharapova’s forehand let her down in the final set when she needed it most. After netting back-to-back cross-court forehands, the Russian found herself down a double-break at 1-4 and time was running out quickly. After an easy hold, Muguruza was just a game away from booking a berth in the semifinals. Finally, after Sharapova put her 27th unforced error into the net on match point, the shrieking turned to silence and the crowd began its applause. Muguruza allowed herself a quiet fist pump as she raced to the net to meet Sharapova.
“Being aggressive is part of my game and when you’re facing somebody who also has an aggressive style of game, I think it’s about who takes the command, who takes the first oppotunity,” said Muguruza afterward in her press conference. “I was focusing on winning every point, every game.”
Sharapova gave props to Muguruza during her gathering with the media. “She was the aggressive one. She had a lot more depth in the ball. My shots were a lot more forced,” she said.
After shaky start, Halep breaks through to beat Kerber
Top seed Simona Halep‘s bid to win her first Grand Slam title took a big leap forward against two-time major champion and former No. 1 Angelique Kerber. In their 10th head-to-head meeting, Halep overcame a shaky start and prevailed with a 6-7 (2), 6-3, 6-2 victory on Court Suzanne Lenglen to advance to Friday’s semifinals against No. 3 seed Garbiñe Muguruza. The No. 1 ranking will be at stake when Halep and Muguruza meet and the winner will be No. 1 when the WTA rankings are updated next Monday.
“It’s always a tough match when I play against her,” said Halep during an interview after beating Kerber in two hours and 14 minutes. She now owns a 6-4 win-loss record against the German foe. “It’s always three hours, so I’m always prepared before the match that it’s going to be the same. After the first set, I just stayed strong. I didn’t give up at all.”
Halep, who had lost just one set during this fortnight and dropped just 14 games the entire tournament, started off terribly and was broken in each of her first two service games. Before she knew what had hit her, she trailed 4-0. However, the World No. 1 went to work and leveled the set 5-all. The battle was on and, soon, the set would be decided by a tie-break after Kerber was broken while serving for the set at 6-5. Finally, the German stopped Halep’s momentum long enough to win the tie-break 7-2.
“I missed a lot at the beginning of the match,” said Halep, who committed seven unforced errors in just the first two games and 30 in the first set. “She’s always putting the ball back and she doesn’t miss. So, I tried to do too much and it didn’t work. Then, I changed my tactics a little bit, and it worked very well in the end.”
In the second set, Halep raced to a 5-3 lead thanks to her on-court hustle, which enabled her to run down drop shots and dig out winners. When Kerber double-faulted on set point in the next game, it pushed the match into a decisive third set.
From there, Halep dictated play and Kerber became error-prone and eventually needed a medical time out for her foot. What started out looking like an easy win for the German had become anything but. Halep lifted her game in the final two sets and took over control of the match. Finally, on match point, Kerber’s final backhand sailed long beyond its intended spot and the match was Halep’s to celebrate. As the two-time Roland Garros runner-up turned to her coach Darren Cahill and the rest of her box, she raised her right index finger to her temple and smiled. There’s a reason she’s World No. 1 and she remembered why.