Rome Masters: Sharapova late slide gives her win over Barty
The three-time champion won the opening round in three sets.
Maria Sharapova’s late push in a fight at the BNL Internazionali D’Italia ended in victory on Tuesday evening. Despite a long delay before the competition, the former world number one came out against heavy competitive spirit from Ashleigh Barty to win in three sets 7-5, 3-6, 6-2 at NextGen Arena on the grounds of Foro Italico. The win snapped Sharapova’s three first round losing streak to advance to the second round.
This was the first meeting between the two players and a critical moment for one of them to make a stand at the start of the tournament. Barty made her first appearance in the main draw and found herself pitted against the 2015 champion who last season couldn’t make it beyond the second round.
While the Aussie doesn’t have the best record on clay, she had the chance to counter any problems that the former number one rolled into like she did last week in Madrid. With very little time before Roland Garros, Sharapova needed more than ever to find consistency to get back into the groove of being an enforcer.
She forced Barty into a drawn-out game on deuce playing through two breaks before the Aussie eventually held. The Russian opened her service with a double fault that opened the chance for Barty to make a threat. Sharapova saved the break, forcing the deuce to go on holding the second game. The effort rewarded her in the third breaking the 22 year old for the lead and more earning her first serve to love in the fourth.
Reluctant to let the set get away from her, Barty answered in kind to the three-time champion and got back within reach. Her unforced errors once again rattled her fight that handed Sharapova another margin gap. Despite having double-digit unforced errors, the young Australian swung back to within one landing her second ace of the day. It wasn’t enough to stop the former number one from closing in on the set as she put down another good service hold in the eighth.
Barty was on the edge serving in the ninth but got through to hold her opponent off with a shot at forcing the set to its limit. After some encouragement from coach Craig Tyzzer during the break, she employed some tactics that flustered the Russian into some mistakes. She fell 0-40 due to a suffering first serve that allowed Barty to gain more play in the set. A big hiccup in the Aussie’s serve gave Sharapova a chance to redeem the issues. After two free points from back to back double faults, the 31 year old rallied on break point to lead 6-5 with her opportunity to regroup on serve and end it. Firing well to land winners in the 12th, the Russian completed the set in 45 minutes, making it difficult for Barty to return on.
She made it a mission to dictate in the second set scoring a triple break on the 22 year old but couldn’t handle herself in the next game. Just when it looked as if there was a change in control occurring, Sharapova fought to stay neck and neck in the fourth in what was the longest game of the match. They spanned five breaks and 18 points before the Russian got the win. The temperature began to drop below 60 degrees.
The energy put into the previous game saw Barty struggling on serve, committing a fifth double fault. The Aussie forced deuce to stay alive on serve and come out with her first lead of the set. The 22-year-old made it 4-2 hoping to pressure the Russian to return to shaky serves going forward. Sharapova had a statement in form but let all her chances for breakpoint slip away making it possible for a third set to be played. Sharapova prevented the set from ending on her serve making every chance to rally back on the score and save the match from moving forward. On a chance that got her to deuce with Barty, Sharapova made a critical error on the return that handed the 22 year old a real shot at pulling off a victory against the Russian.
After a short break off the court, Sharapova returned to begin the third set with a hold of serve but struggled to defend well in the following game. Despite losing her early opportunity, the 31-year-old held in the third, consolidating it with a break thereafter. It was soon 4-1 as a third consecutive hold for the three-time champion who fired big shots to Barty while she rifled shots back that the former number one dealt with.
The gap wasn’t a big worry for the Australian as she found herself in the same situation with positive results. She took hold in the sixth but watched as Sharapova etched back out to three games between the two playing for the match in the eighth. Barty was under the gun committing her seventh double fault on serve but played every point she had left to play. It came down to two match points where Barty saved one and got to deuce on a long ball from the Russian.
Getting into pressure herself, Sharapova dropped two shots at match point but got the third on a bad hit off the racket for the Australian to end the match in 2 hours and 31 minutes. With the conditions changing throughout the match, Sharapova would hope for a better forecast as she faces Dominika Cibulkova next.