Russian Maria Sharapova and Spanish Garbine Muguruza will meet for a place in the Roland Garros 2014 semi-final, with the Sharapova vs Muguruza Head to Head standing at 1-0.
Sharapova will enter the French Open quarter-finals a relived woman.
Relived on two counts: 1) that she survived the toughest of mental battles to get to that stage, and 2) that her nemesis, Serena Williams, won’t be waiting for her.
On Sunday, Sharapova was a mere six points from defeat before her fabled determination and iron focus prevailed. On the wrong end of a superb clay court performance from Sam Stosur, the Russian found herself 3-6, 3-4 down. With Stosur hitting the spots with her colossal kick serve and bombastic groundstrokes, there seemed little Sharapova could do, and a rare loss to the Aussie looked likely.
But while both players were distracted by a fan’s phone ringing at 4-4 in the second set, only one turned it to her advantage. Stosur lost focus and crumbled; Sharapova gained a foothold, tightened her grip and grew stronger by the minute. She dominated the final nine games to take the match 3-6, 6-4, 6-0.
The seventh seed’s reward is a date with the breakout star of the women’s tournament, Garbine Muguruza. After upsetting Serena in stunning fashion last week, the Spaniard has made good on her promise to the world number one and kept on winning. She dispatched Anna Schmiedlova in round three, and beat home favourite Pauline Parmentier 6-4, 6-3 in the last 16.
Muguruza has looked confident and poised throughout all four of her matches in Paris, but can she stare down Sharapova when the pair take to Court Philippe Chatrier on Tuesday? If she can, she would become the first woman to beat both Serena and Maria at the same tournament since Elena Dementieva did it in Toronto 2009.
As we have already seen, the 19-year-old at her best can create a devastating cocktail of power and tactical precision. She not only hit as big as Serena during their second round encounter; she also kept pummelling balls to the middle of the court in order to prevent the American from dictating rallies. A similar strategy would work well against Sharapova, – the Russian is an excellent lateral mover – but it would also be a good idea for Muguruza to draw her rival into the net, where she is less at ease.
However, in order to notch the second biggest win of her career, Muguruza will have to stay consistent, and that could prove a bigger challenge. Despite her quartet of victories, she has made more unforced errors than winners in all but one of her matches, and while Sharapova’s game is similarly high-risk, the elder player has greater experience of riding out the rough patches. And if Muguruza gets off to a nervous start – a possibility in her first ever Grand Slam quarter-final – Sharapova will be ruthless in exploiting those jitters (witness her double bagel drubbing of Paula Ormaechea in the third round).
These two have met only once before, in the Italian Open last year, with Sharapova winning 6-2, 6-2 in just over an hour. Tuesday’s battle should be a closer affair, but the outcome will probably be the same. Muguruza is in new territory against one of the fiercest battlers in the history of the game, and although she has nothing to lose, Sharapova has a second French Open title in her sights and knows she has a prime opportunity to claim it. Expect the Russian to eke this one out in two sets full of short rallies and powerful hitting.