World No. 3, Maria Sharapova, took part in a gruelling encounter on centre court yesterday – one that required extraordinary determination to leave victorious. The Russian superstar was forced into a three set battle against Italy’s Karin Knapp, before eventually downing the tough competitor to reach the third round of a Grand Slam event for the first time since the 2013 French Open.
It was a turbulent, yet valiant performance from Sharapova, who hit 2 aces, 34 winners and 12 double faults en route to her 6-3, 4-6, 10-8 victory. After storming through the first set, and holding a break advantage in the second set, Knapp climbed her way back to level the score in the second set before forcing a decider between the two female athletes.
By the time the third set was in motion, the extreme heat policy was in play on all outdoor courts, but Sharapova and Knapp continued to play under the blistering sun, as the roof was scheduled to be closed following the conclusion of their match. Sharapova broke for a 3-1 lead in the third, but was broken and leveled at 3-all. This occurred once again when Sharapova had the opportunity to serve out the match at 5-4 but was once again broken to keep the match going. With no tiebreak in the deciding set, the two competitors battled until the score reached 8-8, where Sharapova finally took advantage of her opportunity and served out the match leading 9-8 to reach the third round in Melbourne.
“There’s no way of getting around the fact that the conditions were extremely difficult, and have been like that the last few days,” Sharapova said. “But you’re really just trying to get through the match in the best possible way. No matter how you’re playing, you’re trying to make it as safe as possible.
“I’m really happy to get through today. I really am. I worked really hard in the last few months and I wanted this match. I didn’t play my best tennis; I didn’t do many things well. But I got through it.”
Awaiting Sharapova in the third round will be No.25 seed Alizé Cornet, who won a marathon of her own against Camila Giorgi, 6-3, 4-6, 6-4. She rallied from 4-1 down in the third to beat Giorgi in two hours and 36 minutes. After losing in the opening round in Sydney last week to Chirstina McHale, this is a fantastic recovery from the Frenchwoman, as she continues to climb back up the ranks.
Sharapova holds a 1-0 lead in the head-to-head series against Cornet, and while her win did come via retirement, she is still a significant favourite over her. Both are coming off marathon matches in the second round and it will be interesting to see who appears more fatigued on court on Saturday.
Prediction: Maria Sharapova in Three Sets