Maria Sharapova beat Donna Vekic 7-5 6-4 to set up a mouth-watering third round encounter with Karolina Pliskova at the 2018 French Open.
The Russian, 31, is in superb form during the clay court swing after reaching the quarter-final in Madrid and the semi-final in Rome.
However, Vekic was also in form coming into the match, and she made life difficult for Sharapova – particularly in the first set.
At the beginning of the match, the players traded breaks as they searched for rhythm. Both the Russian and the Croatian are aggressive by nature and each was eager to punish the other’s weak serves.
They soon settled down though, and began to serve better as the score moved along to 3-3. Then Sharapova saved two break points in game seven which proved to be crucial.
Vekic was playing well and, if she had broken then, she would have been in the lead ahead of the most critical part of the set and could have gone on to win it.
Instead, the two-time French Open champion held serve and eventually broke the Croatian in the 12th game to take the first set 7-5.
Sharapova made to work hard
Sharapova raced into a 4-2 lead in the second set and looked ready to run away with it. But Vekic was not done yet, and she broke in the ninth game to get proceedings back on serve.
The World No.50 achieved the break by producing her best tennis of the match. She hit two brilliant forehand winners to earn two break points, and took the second when the Russian skewed a forehand wide.
However, Sharapova is a five-time Grand Slam champion for a reason, and she seemed determined to get the job done in game ten.
The Russian earned her first match point by hammering a forehand winner down the line, but she could not take advantage. And Vekic refused to make it easy for as she saved four more match points during an epic __-minute game.
In the end, Sharapova took her sixth match point with a powerful forehand winner, but the Croatian should be encouraged by this performance ahead of several weeks on arguably her strongest surface: grass.
For Sharapova, this was a considerable test and she played very well to win it. However, she may need to play even better to have a chance against Pliskova.
Sharapova under no illusions
“I never use the words “under control,” I think, no matter how well or not well I have played,” Sharapova said in her press conference.
“You know, I don’t think there is ever a perfect way to go into a match. I think you always have to feel that you’re improving and there are things that you’re working on, because that will always make you better.”
“There are a lot of things I feel I could have done better in the last two matches and I hope I will have to. I will have to produce that type of level against someone like Pliskova.”
The Czech won a close match 3-6 6-4 6-1 against compatriot and former French Open finalist Lucie Safarova.
The World No.53 managed to break the World No.6 twice early on in the first set, but Pliskova dominated on serve thereafter and, although Safarova matched her younger opponent in most other areas, that proved to be the difference.
Elsewhere in the women’s draw, 15th seed Coco Vandeweghe suffered a surprise 6-3 4-6 0-6 loss to Lesia Tsurenko. The Ukrainian’s reward is a meeting with Magdalena Rybarikova in round three after the Slovakian beat Belinda Bencic 6-2 6-4.
Elise Mertens took out Heather Watson 6-3 6-4 and will now face Daria Gavrilova after the Australian fought back from a set down to beat Bernarda Pera 5-7 7-5 6-3.
It was also a good day for two of the oldest players in the draw: Sam Stosur and Andrea Petkovic.
The Australian, 34, beat Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-2 7-6(1) to earn a third-round clash with Garbine Muguruza, while the German, 31, must now face Simona Halep after overcoming Bethanie Mattek-Sands 6-0 7-6(5).
[Originally published on ubitennis.com]