PARIS – Without a doubt, Maria Sharapova’s 6-1 2-6 6-4 semifinal win over Victoria Azarenka at Roland Garros meant a tremendous amount to her. Sharapova has lost their previous two Grand Slam clashes, as the Belarussian blew her out in the 2012 Australian Open final and then tipped her in the 2012 US Open semis.
But this time, they were playing on the defending champion’s court, on a surface, red clay, that the Russian is more comfortable on. Sharapova whipped huge forehands at Azarenka all day long, exposing her foe’s weaker side and when she didn’t grow briefly wild at the end of the second set and wasn’t double faulting, she served much better and in the clutch, was a more forceful return of server and stronger off the ground. She would not allow the match to become a track meet and in the third set, with Azarenka gamely hanging in the match she kept swinging away.
When Sharapova was in rhythm, she looked like the better player. When she was not, Azarenka was able to jab at her and get her out of position. Azarenka battled hard down 2-5 and fought off four match points, and after Sharapova committed four unforced errors in the next game, it appears that she might falter against a player who has largely had her number during the last two year. But Sharapova came off her chair and stung three winners. two of which were aces, including on her fifth match point.
“I’m really happy with the way I came out from playing a tough match yesterday,” said Sharapova, who also needed three sets to best Jelena Jankovic. “Turned it around and came today and the way I played the first set ‑ I wish I could have carried that through in two ‑ but I did the job and I’m happy from where I was in the beginning of the tournament to where I am today. I just hope that I can improve for the next one.”
That next one will be against Serena Williams, who crushed Sara Errani. Sharapova hasn’t beaten Williams in their past 12 matches.
Read about both their thoughts here.
Here is what Sharapova’s former coach Michael Joyce told me about why she has such trouble against Serena. There is much more in Tennis-Journal, but here is a taste
“Maria is way too predictable against Serena. She never serves at her body anymore and plays her forehand way too much. She never hits hard down the middle anymore.
“It’s not a good match up for her no matter what. Serena is just much better, but Maria has got to give herself a shot. When Maria she was 17 and 18, she was 2 or 3 steps faster and defended much better. She may never be able do that again.
“Of course when you lose to someone for almost 10 years in a row it’s going become a little mental, but I think most of the mental is because Serena is only player she can’t dictate to and play the way she wants all the time.
“Plus [her father and occasional coach ] Yuri has told me a million times that Maria can’t win a Grand Slam unless Serena loses, so I’m sure that rubs off on her.”
Novak Djokovic seems a bit more confident than Rafael Nadal going into their semifinals clash. Here are his thoughts.
Here is what Nadal thinks, and my take on what he must do to best the Serbian.
For a full look at both their strengths and weaknesses on clay and how they match up, I did a big expose in Tennis-Journal.