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Rome Masters: Sharapova earns semifinal spot after beating Ostapenko in lengthy match

Rudy Martinez
ANALYST
Feature
312   //    18 May 2018, 23:51 IST

The Internazionali BNL d'Italia 2018 - Day Six

Sharapova exults after beating Ostapenko

Maria Sharapova propelled herself through another three-setter to win at the BNL Internazionali d’Italia on Friday. Her mental toughness and skills were tested again and again by Jelena Ostapenko who put up quite a fight but was defeated 6-7(6), 6-4, 7-5 on Corte Centrale at Foro Italico. The much-deserved win by the three-time champion helped her return to the semifinals for the first time since 2015.

This match was one that was bound to come between two very popular players on the WTA Tour. In the first meeting between the former and the current French Open champions, the stakes for a semifinal spot were higher than ever. Ostapenko played out three breaks before beating Johanna Konta to reach the quarterfinals for the very first time.

Sharapova finally earned a break taking care of a fatigued Daria Gavrilova to record her first straight sets since May 9. With that goal being on the minds of two superstars in the sport, the act of controlling the first few games would be critical for both to stay calm yet concentrated.

Tensions were high early as the first game went on for ten minutes before Ostapenko won after five breaks to hold off the Russian. She won the next two games for a 3-0 lead before Sharapova held service in the fourth.

The margin for victory remained in the hands of the Latvian who served to hold in the fifth keeping three games between the two. The gap stayed that way after Ostapenko captured another hold in the seventh to pressure the 31-year-old into submitting in the set.

The experience of the former world number one got her out of a jam in the eighth holding the serve. She delivered a key break that got her within reach of a serious threat with the serve back in possession in the tenth.

Despite a lot of effort battling Ostapenko on another deuce draw, the Russian completed the full comeback forcing the set deeper. It went to the brink of a tiebreak as neither one gave in to each other’s strengths needing a point by point battle to decide who would truly control the match.

The game went along with both trading points with one another that brought them to a six-all tie making every point count from there on out. Ostapenko got the key point before a line drive winner saw Sharapova barely get her racket on it.

The set proved to be a precursor to a tough match going forward as it took 79 minutes to conclude. The 20-year-old allowed Sharapova nine winners during her success while recording 18 of her own. Getting 86 percent of points on the first serve was her way to edge the 31-year-old superstar into getting across the finish line.

The race for contention went on as the opening game took some time to be decided. When the dust settled, it was Ostapenko still standing with a short winning streak in hand. Sharapova delivered the back to back breaks in the set.\

They evened at two-all after four before a push from Sharapova gave her a 4-2 lead after six. Ostapenko wasn’t thrilled with her being down in the set and began to make her charge back with a break of the Russian.

She got it back to level terms in the eighth setting the pace against Sharapova that caused the Russian to play under some tension. She was forced to deuce in the ninth making some errors along the way but coming up big with forehand winners to get her out of trouble and back in the lead.

The wind became a huge problem for the Ostapenko as she double-faulted during her serve in the tenth that made it easy for Sharapova to capture her first set of the day going the distance to stay in the tournament. The Russian’s efforts through 49 minutes showed on her first serve that recorded three aces and 11 winners while keeping the errors low.

Both players would try to keep the same elements in check as the third set would finalize who was going to break ahead. They split the first four games where each player had their falters but managed to hold through to keep the service hold.

Sharapova kept ahead on the scoreboard each time before rallying back against Ostapenko in the sixth to win the break and go 4-2 in the set. Her serve was challenged in the seventh as a win would help her get the leverage needed to serve up the knockout. After a fight back to force deuce, the former number one secured the advantage point to put her young opponent on the edge to stay alive on serve.

Before her service game, Ostapenko took a final chat with coach David Taylor telling her to hit everything and change up the returns in the rally. She got the hold to love that she so desperately needed to play on against Sharapova’s first serve for the match.

The Russian used the crosscourt technique to catch the Latvian off the mark. There were times in the game that a spectator ruined the serve of Sharapova to the point of a double fault. It became too much for the 30-year-old who was rattled, giving Ostapenko another game win.

With the chance of sending the set forward, the fifth seed had some good serves that had Sharapova nearly beaten but the answers from the Russian gave her a shot for match point on deuce that she blew with a bad backhand going for too much when little was required.

She let up just enough to give Ostapenko the advantage point which sent the set into extra frames. Sharapova showed that her serve wasn’t at the level she wanted it to be as the Latvian got into the game looking for the chance to break.

The Russian suffered her tenth double fault sending the players to deuce where after a short struggle, she capped her service game leading 6-5. Knowing that she couldn’t afford to allow a tiebreak to occur, Sharapova attacked the final service game of Ostapenko’s reaching 40-15 before a winner ended the 3 hour and 10 minute battle sending her into the semifinals.

254 points were played in an epic first meeting that neither Sharapova or Ostapenko will forget about one another’s tactics and weaknesses. While the latter now focuses on her title defense in Paris next week, the former winner of the tournament will await facing either Simona Halep or Caroline Garcia on Saturday.

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Rudy Martinez
ANALYST
A writer with eight years experience in sportswriting. He specializes in the National Hockey League, WTA Tennis and both summer and winter Olympic sports.
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