For the second match in a row, a rain delay gave Maria Sharapova the chance to sort out her mind, sort out her game and overcome a tricky and determined opponent. Just as her fortunes changed after the one-hour delay against Nadia Petrova in the fourth round, when she was done 2-0 in the third set, the French Open champion found a way past Marion Bartoli after the inclement weather forced players off court.
This time, however, the gap in play stretched to almost a full day, and players did not resume until Wednesday afternoon. Leading 4-0, Bartoli picked up where she had left off, her unique double-handed groundstrokes confounding Sharapova with their accuracy and power. The Russian managed to get a break back to make the score more respectable, but the first set went the way of the Frenchwoman, 6-3. It was the first set she had ever won against the world number three.
In contrast to the high-energy and tenacity she showed against Petrova, Sharapova seemed more subdued in this quarter-final contest. But one of the reasons she has had such an illustrious career is her ability to focus and keep fighting, regardless of the situation. In the second set, she began to dial in her first serves with more consistency. With both players starting to fist-pump and yelling encouragement to themselves, it was eventually Sharapova who prevailed, securing the second set with a perfectly-timed ace.
There was little to separate the two at the beginning of the decider. They each managed a break of serve on the way to 4-all, Sharapova’s powerful forehand working both crosscourt and down the lines, while Bartoli’s unorthodox shotmaking held firm. However, the 11th seed’s first serve percentage had dropped to 41%, limiting her ability to get the upper hand in rallies. In a titanic ninth game that was a test of nerves as much as an exhibition of high-risk tennis, Sharapova finally managed to break serve.
There were to be no more swings of momentum. Sharapova held to close out the 2 hour, 32 minute battle 3-6, 6-3, 6-4. She had hit an impressive 44 winners to Bartoli’s 18, proving that she never doubted her ability to pull off the big shots when it mattered. And while 11 double faults were costly, she also managed to send down 10 aces.
In the semi-final, Sharapova will have the opportunity to avenge her Australian Open final loss to Victoria Azarenka. She has beaten the world number one this year on clay, but the hard courts of Flushing Meadows, Azarenka’s favourite surface, will present a tougher challenge. Interestingly, neither woman has lost a three set-match all year, which will make the last-four clash required viewing should it go to a decider.