This is the fifth meeting between Maria Sharapova and Eugenie Bouchard. Usually, this would not warrant a lengthy post much less a match analysis. The question isn’t who will be the winner. The question is how soundly will Sharapova demolish Bouchard’s game and thus her fledgling confidence or will Bouchard’s pride push her to dismantle Sharapova’s comeback story?
Their individual issues and the weight of this tournament in the race for the French Open colors this picture. Every tennis fanatic has watched the marketing war between the two. Bouchard is working hard to assume the blonde phenom mantle even with her own injury, slump and legal issues. Of course, Sharapova’s doping ban and return has her competitors up in arms. No doubt, with Bouchard’s age and millennial sensibilities she took the wildcard debacle as a personal and business affront. But her statement is what has the press calling this the grudge match.
She’s a cheater, and so to me — I mean, I don’t think a cheater in any sport should be allowed to play that sport again. It’s so unfair to all the other players who do it the right way and are true. So, I just think from the WTA it sends the wrong message to young kids. Cheat and we’ll welcome you back with open arms. So I don’t think that’s right and definitely not someone I can say I look up to anymore because it’s definitely ruined it for me a little bit.
With Kader Nouni umpiring, the two took the court with their game faces on and surely their game plans etched in their every fiber. Sharapova came out strong winning the first point. The second serve showed the changes in her serve. Her toss is lower and her form is tighter with less tics or unnecessary moving parts. The third serve she dropped the toss several times and when she finally served, she was rewarded with a stinging return. Her serve is still vulnerable to a good returner! Bouchard put her on notice with some eye-opening returns.
At 2-2 the stress of backing-up their words or as some would say saving face, was on display as Bouchard won a side to side rally and then forced a double-fault. But she blew a 40-0 lead with a wild backhand. At 30-15 Sharapova struck a heavy serve but netted Bouchard’s return. She saved two break points with excellent shot placement, angles… Sharapova produced some excellent winners that will leave her shoulder sore tonight. But then she double faulted her adv. away. Hitting the ball on the rise, she forced Bouchard to send the ball long for another adv. and then the game.
The sixth game was riddled with Bouchard errors and one brilliant Sharapova return for the first break of the match. Up 4-2, she swung even more freely and Bouchard continued to flail but a missed drop shot gave Bouchard break point. Bouchard blew two break points with dismal misses but secured the break-back 4-3. Both players employed side to side hitting forcing the opponent to hit on the run. Again, Bouchard started her serve with two lose points before securing the game 4-4. Bouchard has the upper hand on hitting on the run and her movement is so good that she has the time to set-up for better shots, especially her feet. Sharapova is giving Bouchard all the pace she can handle but she isn’t pushing her back.
When Bouchard broke Sharapova for the second time, it was obvious that Sharapova had lost a step. Her coach visit, showed her meditating and stressed. She also looked like she tweaked something…
Serving for the opening set, Bouchard again started the game with loose errors and less aggression. She backed off even though Sharapova did not. Down 30-0 Bouchard had an amazing get that should have been the shot of the match but Sharapova continued swinging with incredible pace to break back for 5-5. Bouchard roared right back with her returns but was unable to close out the game after reaching break point again. Her second break point was followed by a lose return. Her third beak point was finally successful. Bouchard took the first set, surprising Sharapova.
Down a set, she came out louder than ever. She started the match on mute but rising frustration at the incredible winners Bouchard was serving-up moved the switch to banshee levels. Sharapova bumbled a cross-court volley to an empty court for 2-2. The next game she sent a blistering cross court shot announcing her determination to stay in the match. This was followed be a successful dropshot for a 30-0 lead then her first game. She was able to keep Bouchard to love. Again, Bouchard played a loose game. Down 0-40 she double faulted the game away. Sure Sharapova changed her return position, but Bouchard just lost her focus and maybe feeling some mental exhaustion at one hour and forty minutes. Up 4-2, Sharapova pressed the accelerator and Bouchard quickly lost the set.
After Bouchard’s let-down in the latter part of set 2, the odds are in Sharapova’s favor as the third set begins. Then Bouchard lost her fifth game in a row. She was less sharp, she wasn’t planting her feet, she was sending balls flying and even when she had a good rally, Sharapova took her winning shot and returned it for a winner of her own. She did this twice in the second game to reach break point. But Bouchard won the game in what maybe the longest rally.
At 1-1 Sharapova was back on the offensive, so much so that she bails out of a rally with a horrible drop shot 0-40. She quickly pushed back to wrangle the game from Bouchard. In the fourth game Sharapova was a bit frantic, losing the break with three unbelievable errors. On her serve, she wasn’t able to wipe the smirk off of Bouchard’s face as she continued with the errors 0-40. Then she served out wide on both sides and Bouchard wasn’t able to get a racket on the ball. Even when she served down the T, she was able to control the rally.
Brilliant scramble had Bouchard pushing back, but Sharapova took the game 3-2. After wrestling for a couple of games, Bouchard broke and at the two-hour and thirty-five minute mark she was broken losing the opportunity for a two break lead. Serving at 4-4 Sharapova had some costly forced errors. At 5-4 Bouchard served for the match after some calming words from her Coach Hogstedt told her to,” breath and don’t back up, move forward…” She was down 15-40 before she loosened up a bit. At match point and two hours forty-nine minutes they had a loopy point. Match point #2 she does it with a perfectly placed cross court ball!
Though Bouchard showed her glee jumping up and down several times, she quickly collected herself and approached the net. Their handshake was professional and reeked of forced sportmanship. Quickly off the court, this loss will sting for some time for Sharapova and it has likely put a battery in Bouchard’s back. She earned this shift in their head-to-head battle with a hard-fought win 7-5, 2-6, 6-4.
With great serves down the T and out wide, Sharapova’s game was also littered with double faults and an inability to body serve or push her opponent back. She was on offensive quite a bit and obviously shaken by her opponent. Bouchard used an effective pattern: great return and side to side swinging volleys, often closing at the net. But her lose points cost her; she had far too many mental lapses. When she took control of the game, Sharapova was left watching winners sail by her. She also seemed less dependent on her coach. Sven Groeneveld was ever-present, coming out at every opportunity to settle Sharapova. He clearly understood the importance of this match! With similar games, this match was always going to be long and grit or nerve was always going to be the deciding factor! Well now that we have a winner, what is next for these super-stars?