Maria Sharapova suffered her fourth straight loss on the WTA tour as Caroline Garcia produced a stirring comeback to beat the Russian 3-6 7-6(6) 6-4 in Stuttgart.
Defeat in the first round means Sharapova will drop outside the World’s Top 50 after she reached Roberta Vinci, Ekaterina Makarova and Anett Kontaveit en route to the semi-final in 2017.
It was a strange loss, too, as the Russian won more points than Garcia (109 to 104), hit more winners (39 to 25) and more aces (17 to 6) but somehow ended up on the wrong side of the scoreline.
Ultimately it came down to who played the big points better. And although this is an area Sharapova historically excels in, today it was the Frenchwoman who stepped up and produced her best when it really mattered.
The two-time French Open champion served superbly in the opening set. She lost just five points during five of the most comfortable holds of her career and got the solitary break she needed in the second game.
Garcia responds superbly
Garcia made sure the second set was entirely different. She attacked Sharapova’s second serve and went toe-to-toe with the Russian throughout.
The Frenchwoman broke to lead 4-2, but the former World No.1 hit back straight away and almost won three games in a row. However, Garcia expertly saved two break points in game nine.
Perhaps inevitably, this very close set was decided by a tie-break. And the World No.7 looked set to win it comfortably when she raced into a 6-3 lead.
Sharapova then fought back to 6-all and sensed a chance to seal a straight-sets victory. But Garcia snuffed out her hopes with a big serve and a precise backhand winner to take it 8-6.
The decider was also close and it was still hard to predict what would happen at 4-all. The Frenchwoman stepped up and provided the answer by punishing some weak serving from the Russian. After securing the break, she clung on to her serve to seal the win.
Garcia delighted to win
It was Garcia’s first-ever victory over Sharapova and she celebrated gleefully. She lost to the Russian at the French Open in 2011, Doha in 2013, Brisbane in 2014 and Madrid in 2015.
“It was a very close match, as I expected,” said Garcia in her on-court interview. “I know she’s a fighter, so until the end it will be very difficult.”
“I was a little bit more aggressive today and I returned a little bit better and finally I can say, after seven years, that I beat her.”
Garcia believes her consistency helped her win today. She said, “Sometimes you react to the ball when it comes fast and you hit harder but sometimes you have to think a little bit more and play with more accuracy and that’s what I did well in the last couple of games.”
The Frenchwoman was asked what it was like playing Sharapova for the first time at Roland Garros in 2011 when she was just 17.
She said, “She really plays every single point 100%. So even when I was up, I got a bit stressed. It was my first match on a big court and she had the experience with her, so then I didn’t win any more games. It was not a very good experience for me, so it’s definitely a very important win today.”
Goerges stunned by Vondrousova
Julia Goerges produced one of her worst performances of 2018 as she was hammered 6-2 6-2 by World No.73 Marketa Vondrousova.
In front of an increasingly stunned home crowd, the German seemed unable to defend her second serve and failed to earn a break point in the match.
This enabled talented youngster Vondrousova, 18, to break Goerges twice in each set and wrap up a remarkably simple victory in just 68 minutes. She will play Elina Svitolina in round two.
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova sees off Angelique Kerber to reach the quarter final at the Australian Open
Anastasya Pavlyudchenkova battled past Angelique Kerber 6-7 (5-7) 7-6 (7-4) 6-2 after 2 hours and 37 minutes to reach her sixth Grand Slam quarter final.
Pavlyuchenkova earned her first break with a volley and raced out to a 5-2 lead with a double break with a backhand return. Kerber came back by winning four consecutive games to take a 6-5 lead. Pavlyuchenkova hit seven consecutive winners from 3-5 to take a 3-0 in the tie-break. Kerber won seven of the next nine points from 0-3 down and sealed her first set point with a backhand winner.
Kerber saved two set points at 4-5 and another one at 5-6 in the second set. Pavlyuchenkova closed out the second set on her fifth set point with a return winner.
Pavlyuchenkova went up a double break to race out to a 4-0 lead. Kerber pulled back one of the two breaks with a forehand crosscourt. Pavlyuchenkova earned her third break of the decisive set to open up a 5-2 lead and closed out the match with her fourth ace setting up a quarter final against Garbine Muguruza, who beat Kiki Bertens 6-3 6-3.
“I was there pretty much every point, I mean, I tried to. That always paid off, or at least that gives some sort of confidence. Sometimes there were some moments or matches where I did not feel my best or I did not play my best, but I was still there”, said Pavlyuchenkova.
Anett Kontaveit came back from one set down to beat Polish teenager Iga Switek 6-7 (4-7) 7-5 7-5 becoming the first player from Estonia to reach the quarter final at the Australian Open. Kontaveit will face Simona Halep in the quarter final.
Garbine Muguruza Doesn’t Care About Her Ranking As Australian Open Run Continues
The Spanish star has now achieved her best grand slam run in almost two years at Melbourne Park.
After experiencing a roller coaster 2019 on the tour, Garbine Muguruza looks to be back on track at the Australian Open following her latest triumph.
The former world No.1 extended her winning run in Melbourne on Monday with a 6-3, 6-3, win over ninth seed Kiki Bertens. Making it the second top 10 player she has defeated in the tournament after Elina Svitolina. In her latest clash, the Spaniard was broken at the start of both sets, but managed to turn her fortunes around with the help of a dominant display behind her first serve. Where she won 28 out of 31 points. Muguruza also hit 19 winners to 18 unforced errors.
“I feel good in this tournament. I’m super concentrated on every single match, especially because I started the tournament so-so. I feel like my body’s getting healthier.” Said Muguruza.
“It’s a Grand Slam, we are all very concentrated here. For me, it’s one of the tournaments that motivates me the most.”
As a result of her latest win, Muguruza is through to the last eight of a major for the first time since the 2018 French Open. It is only the second time she has managed to reach the quarter-final stage in Melbourne and first since 2017.
The surge comes at a time where the 26-year-old is trying to establish her footing on the tour. Unseeded in the draw, she is currently ranked 32nd in the world. 14 places lower than where she was 12 months ago. Not that it bothers her in any way.
“You know what? Who cares about the ranking, honestly. I feel like it’s just a sign of probably the last results. At the end you go out there and you play.” She explained.
“I don’t even know the rankings of the ones I’m playing. I know who they are. I know the matches we’ve had. But it doesn’t affect me so much.’
“Of course, the higher you are, the more beautiful it is. But it’s not that important to me no more after these years.”
Muguruza’s laid back approach to her current position is understandable given the openness of women’s tennis. The past 12 major tournaments have been won by 10 different players. During that period Naomi Osaka and Simona Halep are the only players to win multiple titles. At present there are 16 active grand slam champions playing on the WTA Tour.
The question remains about whether Muguruza has what it takes to go all the way in Melbourne. No Spanish woman has reached the final of the tournament since Conchita Martinez back in 1998, who coincidentally is now coaching Muguruza on the tour.
“She’s very, very aggressive as she was when she was playing her best tennis.” Martinez told reporters about Muguruza’s current form.
“Physically, I see her (playing) very well. She’s getting to the balls early enough. You can see she’s holding her ground really well, accelerating, finishing at the net a lot. That’s always nice to see.’
“Things like that you can see a little bit more and more. So it’s good to see.”
Muguruza will play either Angelique Kerber or Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in the next round.
Simona Halep Keeps Her Cool To See Off Mertens Challenge
Simona Halep continued her impressive progress through the Australian Open draw with a straight-sets victory over Elise Mertens.
Simona Halep produced a superb performance to beat Elise Mertens 6-4 6-4 and secure her place in the quarter-final of the Australian Open for the fourth time.
The Romanian, 28, reached the final two years ago and lost an epic clash to Caroline Wozniacki. She has not dropped a set so far this year and she is probably quietly confident about her chances of winning the title (particularly with all the high-profile exits) but, as she said in her press conference after the previous round, she is focusing on each match as it comes.
“It’s a great performance by me to reach the quarter-finals again,” Halep said in her on-court interview. “I played against (Mertens) in the final in Doha last year. I was leading a set and 4-2 and then lost the match, so I knew I had to stay focused.”
She continued, “I had to calm myself down. When I get a little bit nervous, I get crazy on court. So I had to stay cool to get the energy from my box.”
Halep makes life difficult for Mertens
Halep’s calmness was a feature of the day. She dealt with most of the challenging moments in a composed manner and never let herself get derailed by a poor shot or a lost service. Consequently, she ended up with outstanding statistics: 21 winners and just eight unforced errors.
These numbers reflect the pattern of the match, which was established early on. Mertens went for her shots and tried to hit as many winners as possible. Meanwhile, Halep defended brilliantly and made sure her opponent had to play plenty of long points.
Each extended rally brought with it an increased risk of the Belgian making an unforced error. And it was a method that worked well, as the Romanian won 15 points with this method in the first five games.
With the help of those 15 unforced errors from Mertens, Halep earned a 3-2 lead thanks to a break in game three. During that game, the Belgian cancelled out her own winners with unforced errors. Despite this, she still managed to save three break points before the Romanian eventually seized the break with an excellent forehand winner.
The World No.17’s aggressive approach eventually paid off in game six. She struck three impressive winners to break Halep and make it 3-3.
Unfortunately for Mertens, the Romanian then demonstrated why she is a two-time Grand Slam champion. She put the setback out of her mind immediately and put the Belgian under all kinds of pressure in game seven.
Then Halep raised her game again and hit two stunning forehand winners to break Mertens easily in game nine. She clenched her fist in celebration, and then re-focused to secure the hold she needed to clinch the set 6-4.
Halep withstands Mertens’ fightback
At the start of the second set, the World No.3 produced some sparkling tennis. She hit a precise forehand winner to seal an immediate break. Then she hit an extraordinary angled backhand winner at full stretch to move 2-0 ahead.
In game three, Mertens was 40-30 ahead. Then Halep hit three consecutive forehand winners to break the Belgian again. At that stage, it looked like she might run away with the set.
However, the World No.17 was not ready to concede defeat just yet. She struck two winners and a powerful forehand to earn three break points. Then the Romanian missed a backhand to confirm the break.
Both players enjoyed a rare love hold to move the score along to 4-2. Then Mertens won a series of long rallies to make it 4-3.
This gave the Belgian a platform to attack Halep’s serve. And she did it to great effect. She drove the Romanian back behind the baseline to win one point. Then she unleashed a huge forehand to earn a break point, followed by a classy volley to seal the break.
Both players contested the next game like their lives depended on it. They engaged in a series of long rallies, and eventually it just came down to which woman held her nerve. Halep eventually took it on her fifth break point when Mertens volleyed just wide.
The Romanian closed the match out clinically. She hit an unreturnable serve, a forehand winner and an ace to move 40-0 up. Then the Belgian missed a backhand and the clash was over.
Halep will now face either Anett Kontaveit or Iga Swiatek in the last eight. She will be the heavy favourite to win whichever player makes it through.
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