Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Maria breezing into third round

Injury has plagued the 2008 Aus Open champion Maria Sharapova since mid 2015, with only the year ending WTA Finals allowing her to show what a force she still is in the world.  Her recent withdrawal from the Brisbane tournament was concerning but did not appear to worry Maria as she cruised through the first round here.

She shouldn't have any issues against 105 ranked Aliaksandra Sasnovich (we will call her Ali for now) from Belarus, whose name is longer than this march would probably last, as the first rain caused the roof to be closed over the Rod Laver Arena on Day Three.

Maria began in routine fashion holding behind a strong serve for 1-0.  Her ground strokes immediately were too big, a backhand down the line bringing up break points, the first converted with a Belarus error.
2-0 to Sharapova.

Maria gave up a single point on her smooth voyage to 3-0, and displayed a brief annoyance at her single unforced error.

Sharapove increased her volume, if that were indeed possible and two shots went long, but a double fault from Ali gave the Russian a break point which she converted with ease to proceed to 4-0.  

Seemingly intent on replicating the Azarenka score line from the previous night, Maria slipped up in her next service game,  First a backhand drop shot winner from Ali, then a forehand wide from Sharapova, followed by a blistering return for 0-40 and three break chances.  One saved with a big serve, but not the next, and shock waves through the heart of Melbourne with the loss of a game for Maria.

1-4 and serve to come for a much more confident Belarusian.  Sadly from a competitive position on serve two double faults condemned Ali to 1-5 and Maria was serving for the set.

As the screams grew louder two double faults came, and then an unforced error creating a break point.  Residents in the north of Victoria requested ear plugs when the volume became ridiculous but it was fine for Maria who doesn't care how unfair it is.  The first break point was saved but this service game was a mess, with occasional good shots outweighed by Russian errors.  One of those errors cost the loud fifth seed the game and it was an unexpected 5-2.

Maria's anger turned into attacking effective stroke making which overwhelmed the Belarusian serve and a stunning forehand won the game and set 6-2 for Sharapova, a somewhat delayed but well deserved result.

Keen to wrap this up quickly Sharapova raced through her first serve game and returned the Belarusian serve with some of the best passing shots of the match to date.  The break was completed in style with a down the line sizzler and 2-0 to the Russian.

Sharapova had found her range and now was playing at the level expected of a five time GS winner.  3-0 after another comprehensive service hold, a failed effort at the net notwithstanding.

A double fault gave Sharapova two break points,  and surprisingly Ali saved both.  She in fact saved two more as well and won the game.  3-1 Maria.

I was now in need of a mute button as we reached that stage of a Sharapova match where her vocals are most prominent.  She held serve, but not as convincingly and the advantage was now 6-2 4-1.

One break point was all that Maria needed to prevail in the next game and she served for the match at 5-1.

Although it wasn't her best Sharapova won comfortably 6-2 6-1. 

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