Maria Sharapova was once again trounced at a big moment of the tournament at the Mutua Madrid Open Thursday. The former number one was pushed to the brink by Kiki Bertens who dealt with a shin injury and a late surge from the Russian to win 4-6, 6-2, 6-3 on Arantxa Sanchez Court at La Caja Magica. It was Bertens first win over Sharapova and her 10th match win over the past 11.
This was the first time both faced one another and at a very important moment to have a head to head clash. Sharapova has been on a good streak since her exit from Stuttgart making every set count in her last three matches. She had yet to drop a set much like her opponent who has clearly shown her strengths on the clay court. Her 6-2, 6-2 upset over Caroline Wozniacki made her the one to beat in order for the former number one to gain more points in her quest to return to the top ten.
She opened scoring nailing four straight first serves that resulted in shutting out Bertens. She struck back ending Sharapova’s point streak, taking the next four straight herself for the win. Sharapova gained the first break as the Dutch star had way too many unforced errors in her game handing the lead over at 3-1. The margin was short-lived as Bertens broke the Russian gaining back some lost ground. The hold of serve made it level once again for the 26-year-old who watched Sharapova record a few more errors on the forehand.
They split the next two games before Sharapova went for the hold before breaking the Dutch star to complete the set on her terms. It took the Russian 42 minutes holding at 70 percent on the first serve while 18 unforced errors from Bertens spelled her demise at the end of the opening set.
She came out with a different strategy scoring a break on the 31-year-old before holding her to love for an early lead. She gained a 3-0 run before Sharapova responded in the fourth with a break. While she managed to prevent a shutout by Bertens, the 26-year-old continued to break her during each of her service games taking a 4-1 beating. The Dutch star made it 5-1 holding together despite serious problems with her shin that had been troubling her since the opening set.
She watched Sharapova successfully attain her first service hold of the set but knew that the leverage continued to be in her court. Bertens put the set away for herself that would go the distance to determine a semifinalist. The 37 minutes that it took for Bertens to show a positive outcome of the set winning 83 percent of points on the first serve while limiting the errors. She would need a lot more as tensions would rise going into the third where playing a solid game was the only factor.
Each opened with a hold of serve to start the third set until a big fight from Bertens and errors from Sharapova in the third recorded the first break. Another visit from Tomas Hogstedt occurred during the break telling Sharapova of her opponent’s weakness. Words of encouragement and suggestions of ways to increase the offense turning her body on the shots. While there were moments where Sharapova got the elements to work, unforced errors opened the door for Bertens to regain control on serve to lead 3-1.
Bertens was digging in as Sharapova once again let her serve slip away with continuous errors and a double fault that brought the fifth game to a close. With the upper hand strengthening for the 26-year-old, she earned a sixth ace before a return landing wide by Sharapova made it a 5-1 runaway. The Russian was on the verge of elimination serving to stay in the match but found control coming back to her game that included beating Bertens with a lob just enough to cross the net.
Sharapova wasn’t yet out of trouble as she faced Bertens' serve for the match in the eighth. It was there that she had two double faults but recovered to level at 30 all. A return during the rally landed long of the baseline opening the door for Sharapova to smash a winner that kept her alive once more. Bertens hung on in the ninth waiting for the right moments to strike and counter in the rallies. She got to match point but failed to go for the cross court action. She got a second try on deuce due to Sharapova’s forehand error that occurred once more to end the match in two hours and five minutes.
The victory became another huge feat for the 26-year-old who not only beat a former number one but also reached a semifinal in a WTA premier mandatory for the first time in her career. She gained another chance to succeed as Caroline Garcia was between the cross-hairs in a bout for a spot in Saturday’s final.