Porsche Grand Prix: Kristina Mladenovic halts Maria Sharapova's comeback to reach final
A resilient World No. 19 Kristina Mladenovic halted Maria Sharapova's comeback to enter the final of the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix at Stuttgart on Saturday. The three-time champion looked in control with a set and a break up until the Frenchwoman staged a fightback to edge the Russian, 3-6, 7-5, 6-4 in 2 hours 38 minutes.
Sharapova had not dropped a set this week since she resumed competitive play when her suspension got lifted. And she looked to be heading towards yet another straight-sets victory as Mladenovic, one of the first players to criticize the Russian, took time to figure out how to counter the Sharapova onslaught.
Struggling with her serves, the multiple doubles Grand Slam champion soon trailed 1-4 while the former World No. 1, in contrast, did not even face a single break point all through the opening set.
Sharapova picked up in the second set from where she left. Racing away to a 2-0 lead, she asserted herself totally in this contest. However, that was all before the 19th ranked Madenovic, one of the in-form players of the season, began clawing her way back. Ripping her backhands down-the-line with relentless abandon, she started making Sharapova move all over the court and that, in turn, exposed the latter’s lack of match practice due to her 15-month hiatus.
Mladenovic broke back to level at 3-3 and her confidence and mental fortitude shone brightly. Sharapova was presented with four more break point opportunities for the rest of the set only to see her opponent coming up with a brutal serve to deny her a second breakthrough.
A visibly weary Sharapova finally cracked under immense pressure from the composed Mladenovic, who grabbed the second set 7-5 to send it to a decider. The Russian’s serve, which had so far been one of her weapons during her comeback, let her down. From winning 80% second serve points in the opener, she found only 29% success in the second set.
The inabiity to convert break points came back to haunt Sharapova again in the third set as she failed to make the most of her chances. She managed to break Mladenovic’s serve only once out of the six opportunities she got and that too after already being broken by the St Petersburg Open champion. It was ultimately a fired-up Mladenovic and her fabulous volleying skills that made the difference as Sharapova crumbled while serving at 4-5 in an attempt to even the set.
Mladenovic will meet the winner of the second semi-final between the fourth seed Simona Halep and last year’s runner-up Laura Siegemund.