October 5, 2017
So she finally did it. At the eighth time of asking, Simona Halep beat Maria Sharapova this week.
If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again. That’s what Simona did. In China, she found a way.
That 6-2, 6-2 victory in Beijing was emphatic – and avenged her defeat to Sharapova in the first round of the US Open.
It just goes to show that you can lose and lose to a player, but if you have faith in your own ability, your time can still come.
‘It’s my first victory over her and I just want to enjoy the moment,’ Simona said after setting the tone with a superb first set, when she only made only one unforced error to Maria’s twenty.
Halep will surely hit the number one spot sooner or later. She has been working with co-coach Andrei Pavel, her fellow Romanian, since that wounding reverse at Flushing Meadows.
Simona has turned her form around and looks close to fulfilling her potential, whatever happens for the rest of the week in the Far East.
‘I think she played an incredible match, her best tennis against me so far,’ said Sharapova truthfully.
But what of the Russian’s own game? How do we solve a problem like Maria? Let’s be honest, she hadn’t been playing her greatest tennis, even in the previous round.
Sure, she had beaten Ekaterina Makarova 6-4, 4-6, 6-1. But that middle set had been pretty worrying, with double faults aplenty and a lack of fizz to her game.
Against Halep, 39 unforced errors in total told their own story. At least Maria can move on having enjoyed a little revenge of her own, after beating Anastasija Sevastova – her own conqueror at the US Open – earlier in the China Open.
That 7-6 (7-3), 5-7, 7-6 (9-7) epic must have taken plenty out of Sharapova, for whom the demands of the circuit are probably still a challenge after her long lay-off for that doping ban.
And all of this brings us to the question of how Sharapova can use her defeat by Halep to her own advantage.
There are technical aspects to work on, of course. She must go back to basics, and even take a look at that serve, if she wants to make her game truly fierce again.
But there is plenty more from China to ponder on a psychological level. Remember, Halep beat Sharapova after seven straight defeats. Simona stopped the rot and made a breakthrough to end her long losing streak against her nemesis.
If she plays her cards right, Sharapova may have the chance to put an end to an even more humiliating statistic soon enough.
Maria hasn’t beaten Serena Williams in eighteen times of asking – not since 2004. But, just as Sharapova had to, so Serena is about to return after a significant spell away from tennis.
Williams did nothing wrong of course, she had a baby. And now the new mother is targeting the Australian Open for her comeback. But how vulnerable could the 35-year-old be, when she starts to play the big-time events once more?
Chris Evert believes that tennis has hit even higher levels in Serena’s absence, and she may struggle at first to get up to speed again.
Sharapova has had her share of ups and downs since making her own comeback. But she has a head start on Williams – and that could still count for something.
Maria has time to put things right now, make the necessary adjustments, and forge ahead in her quest for her best tennis. The rewards – in terms of pure personal satisfaction – could still be dramatic.
How she would love to beat Serena, after so many years of one-way traffic. For Sharapova, will there ever be a better time to end her own losing streak than 2018?
Maria has to use that motivation now. What Halep did to Sharapova, so Sharapova can do to Williams. Why not? A nemesis can be overcome. We have just seen as much.
For Maria, beating Serena again – at long last – must be right up there on her list of sporting ambitions, along with winning another Slam. Wherever it takes place, their next clash will be unmissable.
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