June 5, 2014
How do you solve a problem like Maria? Not even a Genie can come up with the answer.
A titanic clash of wills made this intriguing match so special. Big hits and winners aplenty, unexpected errors and endearing vulnerability…both women reached giddy heights, then suddenly reminded us they were human after all.
One day, you sense, 20-year-old Eugenie Bouchard will become world number one. She has the game, she has the mental strength and she has time on her side to discover the three-set intensity she needs to take the final step. Yet right now Maria Sharapova is the woman to admire most on clay. Her hunger is extraordinary, her intensity unparalleled, and all this from a star who already has a career Slam and riches beyond even her comprehension.
Think back just a few short years to Sharapova The Shoulder, the woman we thought would never return to her best after injury, struggling to recapture the most memorable glories of her younger years. But return she did, to prove us all wrong. And in Paris Sharapova simply refuses to be beaten, even though she lost the first set yet again, for a third consecutive match, this time 4-6.
Bouchard deserved her early success too, spraying the clay with a stunning array of shots full of breathtaking power and bravery. Sharapova led 5-2 in the second – but Bouchard refused to lie down and won three games in a row. Maria dug in yet again to carve out a cruicial 7-5 comeback set. Bouchard was 40-0 ahead for the chance to level at 2-2 in the third, yet Sharapova still managed to hit back to break with a blend of miraculous angles and dogged defiance. The favourite then forced mistakes from the younger woman by refusing to give up on lost causes.
Just when we thought it was all over, Sharapova missed a shot for 5-1 in the third, and back came Bouchard once more. The Canadian was growing weary, though, and more errors crept into her game when she needed to find her very best tennis. Even so, at the death Bouchard saved four match points to prolong the drama a little longer. But when Maria finally took that decisive set 6-2, the relief was written all over her face.
It has been a wonderful tournament for Bouchard, the growing force in the game.
But for Maria Sharapova, Roland Garros is not over. There is one more test ahead. One more opportunity to summon the warrior within and emerge triumphant.
Sharapova said of Bouchard: ‘She played an unbelievable match, her level was really high today and I’m really fortunate to win. She played loose and hit the ball so hard. I’d prefer to win in two sets but the first set is not when the match is over.’ And that’s what might scare her opponent in the final. The knowledge that, even if the underdog goes a set ahead, that early success might well be to no avail.
Simona Halep, who will be Sharapova’s adversary after the Romanian beat Andrea Petkovic 6-2, 7-6 (7-4) said: ‘I was a bit stronger in the end, I’m really happy. I have a lot of confidence in myself but Maria is very tough. We played in Madrid and maybe this time I’ll get revenge.’
Want to see the players who never give in fight it out again on grass at the greatest tournament of them all?
Just click on the following link…