Sharapova Successful In Her Return To WTA Tour

Maria Sharapova (photo: Manuel Queimadelos/Mallorca Open)

MALLORCA, June 18, 2019 (by Michael Dickens)

It’s not often that three former World No. 1 players appear on the same order of play, but “Super Tuesday,” as the Mallorca Open billed the second day of its WTA International tournament, featured Victoria Azarenka, wild card Maria Sharapova and top seed Angelique Kerber in consecutive matches on the Pista Central grass at the Santa Ponsa Tennis Academy. Throw into the mix Anastasija Sevastova, Caroline Garcia and Amanda Anisimova and it really provided fans with a windfall of talent all playing on the same day.

Looking for her first grass-court win since 2015 – and first win of any kind since January 28 – the 85th-ranked Sharapova from Russia beat Viktoria Kuzmova of Slovakia, 7-6 (8), 6-0, in one hour and 29 minutes in her first match back on tour. Sharapova hit 16 winners to 13 unforced errors – committing just two errors in the second set – and converted five of her seven break-point opportunities against the 46th-ranked Kuzmova.

“It’s my first win in about three or four months,” said Sharapova, 32, during an on-court interview after her win. “It’s great to be here in Mallorca; what a great place to train and have a warm-up tournament. It’s been amazing for all of us here, and it’s just been nice to experience it for the first time.”

Sidelined with a shoulder injury since late January that required surgery, Sharapova hit her fourth ace and followed it with a winner to garner the opening-set tie break 10-8. Kuzmova had set points at 6-5 and 8-7 during the tie break, but was unable to convert either of them. Then, Sharapova broke Kuzmova in each of the Slovakian’s first three service games of the second set – winning 12 of the first 13 points – to take a commanding 5-0 lead. She closed out the victory on her first match-point opportunity to advance against Kerber, who beat 118th-ranked qualifier Ysaline Bonaventure of Belgium, 7-5, 4-6, 6-2.

“It’s always nice to get a victory,” said Sharapova. “It’s been a while since I’ve been out there, so it was good to put down a few things I’ve worked on, put the arms into action. There’s still a lot to work on and improve, but I had to start somewhere.”

The same could be said for the sixth-ranked Kerber, who was playing her first grass-court match of the season. The reigning Wimbledon champion looked rusty at times – her serve was broken four times and she hit seven double faults – but she took advantage of 11 doubles faults by the Belgian and broke Bonaventure six times during the one hour and 46 minute match.

Also, No. 6 seed Garcia from France, fresh off her title win at the Nature Valley Open in Nottingham on Sunday, came from a set down and 1-3 in the third set against the two-time Grand Slam champion and No. 41 Azararenka of Belarus to pull out a 1-6, 6-4, 7-5 win that lasted two hours. It was Garcia’a sixth time this season that she has come back to win after losing the first set – she captured six of the last eight games – and the win was her sixth straight on grass. The 2016 Mallorca champion fired nine aces and broke Azarenka’s serve five times.

“It was definitely difficult. I arrived only yesterday,” said Garcia after her win. “So, I had to get everything ready and organize myself, and be ready.

“For sure, I was feeling tired in the first set, but sometimes, mentally, you are stronger than you think. That’s what I tried to do. Keep fighting, and in the third set, I was definitely feeling better.”

Next, Garcia will take on 132nd-ranked wild card Paula Badosa of Spain, who upset No. 49 Alison Riske of the United States, 7-6 (2), 5-7, 7-5. Riske had won 10 straight matches on grass and lifted trophies at Surbiton and ‘s-Hertogenbosch the past two weeks.

Meanwhile, No. 2 seed Sevastova of Latvia, a three-time finalist at Mallorca and the 2017 titlist, started the day on Pista Central with a 6-3, 7-6 (5) win over No. 123 Varvara Lepchenko of the United States. Down 4-5 in the second set, Sevastova broke in the 10th game, then capped an eight-shot rally to advance on her second match-point opportunity during the tie-break. Next, the 12th-ranked Sevastova will face No. 47 Ajla Tomljanovic of Australia.

Also advancing was No. 5 seed Anisimova from the United States, who saved a match point during a second-set tie break and went on to beat 143rd-ranked qualifier Tereza Martincova of the Czech Republic, 3-6, 7-6 (7), 6-4. Next, she’ll face 56th-ranked Alizé Cornet of France, who beat 70th-ranked qualifier Sara Sorribes Tormo of Spain, 6-0, 6-1.

Other winners included: wild card Samantha Stosur of Australia, Ons Jabeur of Tunisia, and qualifier Shelby Rogers of the United States.

Around the Mallorca Open

Wednesday’s order of play includes four second-round singles matches involving the lower half of the 32-player draw. At noon, the first match features Alison Van Uytvanck of Belgium versus Wang Yafan of China. It will be followed by wild card Samantha Stosur of Australia against No. 4 seed Elise Mertens of Belgium. Not before 4 p.m. will be No. 7 seed Sofia Kenin of the United States opposing Ons Jabeur of Tunisia, followed not before 6:30 p.m. by No. 2 seed Anastasija Sevastova of Latvia versus Ajla Tomljanovic of Australia.

What they’re saying

• No. 3 seed Belinda Bencic of Switzerland, who enjoys playing on grass and has previous lifted the trophy at Eastbourne in 2015 as well as being a finalist at ‘s-Hertogenbosch (2015), said following her first-round win against Rebecca Peterson of Sweden on Monday: “It felt very nice to be back on grass after a hard-fought victory today. It was a very difficult match, only the little details decided it. On grass, it’s always important to stay mentally strong, and I’m glad I did that today.

“I always adjust pretty good from clay to grass, because grass is very natural for me and clay isn’t. So for me the transition has been good. I find it harder to adjust after, from grass to hard courts.”

Bencic’s win was her 30th of 2019 and first on grass this season.