Upset Avoided: Maria Sharapova Through to Semifinals in Miami

Maria Sharapova in action at the Sony Open (Christopher Levy for Tennis Grandstand)

By Jane Voigt

MIAMI, FL (March 27, 2013) — Last night’s chilly drubbing of defending champion Novak Djokovic sent shock waves through the tournament. No one expected a 34-year-old Tommy Haas to dance the light fantastic, not against the hottest player on tour.

And no one expected Sara Errani to take a woman twice her size, which she had never defeated, to the brink. But she did.

For two and a half hours the see-saw encounter between Errani and Maria Sharapova kept fans on the edge of their seats in Stadium Court. Finally the No. 3 seed Sharapova clinched her spot in the semifinals, 7-5 7-5.

“I feel very lucky that I’m through,” Sharapova began. “She had her chances to win that second set. Who knows what would have happened. I’m lucky to get to the next one and have a chance to be in the semis again.”

Sharapova was, as always, on the war path from the moment Chair-umpire Kader Nouni said, ‘play.’

Sharapova has never won in Miami and tried desperately to quickly rid her route of the Italian, but was thwarted at almost every step. Her serve failed — she double faulted 13 times. And her unforced errors piled up to a massively huge heap of 44. What an embarrassment to her professional pride.

“She makes you work,” Maria admitted. “She doesn’t have the height, doesn’t have the power but she gets so many balls back, and does it over and over again. To have the court coverage that she doesn’t and the variety, obviously she’s able to do those things very well when she has time.”

Errani, a master of manipulation, went about her strategy to move Maria. Tall players are always vulnerable in that department. Maria is no exception although she has improved. But Errani did not have enough time. Sharapova’s balls were back in her court too quickly.

“I like to move the ball with her, when I have more time,” Errani said. “She plays long and flat. So it’s tough to move the ball.”

Sharapova is not a player that elicits much sympathy. Her killer instinct is palpable. There’s never a smile or a nod to an opponent after a brilliant shot. She doesn’t care if they are injured, unbalanced by weather conditions, or that a close relative could have died hours before a match. She is out there for Maria. Win or go home!
Today’s fans, though, seemed to sympathize with Maria’s struggles to keep any scrap of momentum alive when in the next point it fell out from under her the way sink holes in Florida swallow the innocent.

“It’s nice to get through a match when you don’t feel like you’re playing your best,” she began. “On some days you can’t go out on the court and everything goes in.”

This was their fourth meeting, the last in the quarterfinals of Indian Wells, which Sharapova went on to win. Yet the match that stands out to most fans is Maria’s win over Errani at Roland Garros last year. It gave Maria her career Grand Slam.

“It was such an incredible moment,” Maria began, with her eyes cast downward. “To be able to step out on the court where you were able to experience that moment of winning will be special.”

Sharapova will try to become just the third player to win Indian Wells and Miami in the same year. Only Steffi Graf and Kim Clijsters have done it.

“I think it’s one of the toughest back-to-backs of the year,” she said. “It’s the amount of matches, plus the late matches you’re playing. You know, the recovery and the coming from different coasts. I mean it’s not just a hop; it’s a five hour flight.”

Sharapova has lost to two women in 2013: Li Na in the semifinals of the Australian Open and Serena Williams in the semifinals at Doha. In Maria’s eight appearances here, she has played semifinal matches four times. Most recently, she lost to Victoria Azarenka (2011) and to Agnieszka Radwanska (2012).

“With all the tournaments I’ve played, this one I have been so successful at but yet I haven’t won it. It would certainly mean a lot to me to go all the way.”

In the semifinals, Sharapova will play Jelena Jankovic or Roberta Vinci.

Thirty-year-old Vinci will have her hands full with Sharapova, who has a 2-0 edge in their head-to-head record. Vinci, though, is having her best year in singles and should reach a career-high of 13 on Monday when the rankings are released.

Jelena Jankovic, a former number one, would present Sharapova with more challenges. However, their head-to-head is a lopsided 6-1 for Sharapova. These two have seen each other across the net since 2004. Four of their matches have gone three sets, too, and two ended when Jankovic retired.

Maria’s real problem, one she hopes she might finally solve, would come in the final if Serena Williams pushed through her semifinal against Radwanska. In that head-to-head, Williams is the one holding the lopsided record: 11-2. The last time Maria beat Serena was in 2004 at the WTA Tour Championships.