No one should feel sorry for Maria Sharapova. She’s done it all: Won gobs of prize money, millions in endorsements, five Grand Slam titles, as well as serving time for a doping suspension. But when asked Wednesday to win her quarterfinal match against Garbine Muguruza, the Russian came up empty. The loss was her worst in six years at a major.
“I guess, you know, on paper it’s a step in the right direction,” Sharapova told the press.
Sharapova couldn’t serve well enough. She couldn’t run fast enough or dominate rallies without errors piling up. Were all those missteps her fault? Not entirely. Muguruza’s no-nonsense stance hit the “brutal zone” early. She didn’t relent. She hammered away, a stalwart express train to the finish: 6-2, 6-1.
“Being aggressive is, I think, you know, it’s part of the game,” Muguruza said. “And when you’re facing somebody that also has an aggressive style of game, it’s about who take the command, who takes the first opportunity. I was just thinking about not dropping my level, not giving her a single point.”
“When she [Garbine] finds that gear and when her team can get her in that position, I’m not sure any one can beat her,” former player Lindsay Davenport said about Muguruza, as she called the match for Tennis Channel.
The Spaniard, who was born in Venezuela, is not new to this red-dirt rodeo.
Muguruza won Roland Garros in 2016, defeating the world’s unquestionable champion, Serena Williams. Determined and unfettered by the legend, she made history, becoming the first Spanish woman to win the title since Arantxa Sanchez Vicario in 1998.
But Muguruza’s prowess in Paris first emerged in 2014 when she stunned Serena in a second-round scolding, leaving fans and pundits convinced they would hear more from this blossoming star. She advanced to the quarterfinal that year, losing to none other than Sharapova, who went on the hoist the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen.
“I mean, four years ago, my experience was different,” Muguruza said. “I think I did a good performance today, very serious, solid match. I’m happy with that.”
In 2017, Muguruza completed her dominance over the Williams sisters, defeating 5-time Wimbledon champion Venus in the final at The All England Club. Muguruza’s aggression that Saturday was palpable. She knew who stood tall across the net yet took a little over an hour to demolish Venus, 7-5, 6-0.
“The 14th-seeded Muguruza, as it turns out, is the only player to earn a Grand Slam title at the expense of both siblings,” USA Today wrote.
Dominance of this caliber normally is followed by this reality: She’s a big-stage player. She shines at the big ones. She’s a champion on big stages.
These statements are all true about Muguruza, which isn’t a bad thing. She owns a 57-19 win-loss record across all majors, including this French Open. And she’s 2-1 in Grand Slam finals, losing to Serena at Wimbledon in 2015. She also holds a 6-4 career record in finals overall. This all points to a championship mindset.
“I wasn’t thinking really about it [scoreline],” Muguruza said Wednesday. “I was focusing on winning every point, every game, and the score didn’t matter.”
A former number one, she can end this fortnight at the top once again, depending on where No. 1 seed Simona Halep lands. Wednesday, though, the Romanian battled back against a fierce Angelique Kerber to win that quarterfinal, 6-7(2), 6-3, 6-2.
Muguruza’s semifinal berth is even more improbable, knowing that her back was a problem in Stuttgart where she retired against Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova after the first set this spring.
Wednesday, Muguruza camped along the baseline, an aggressive place on red clay and especially against Sharapova, who normally hits bigger and flatter, and screams louder, too. But Muguruza’s confidence and determination locked in. She pressured Sharapova every inch of the match, forcing her to come up with something she couldn’t, especially consistency on serve.
“She did a lot of things better than I did,” Sharapova admitted. “She was the aggressive one. She had a lot more depth in the ball. She served a lot better than I did.”
As a result of missed first-serve opportunities from Sharapova, Muguruza stood in wait inside the baseline for second serves like a cat ready to pounce. She won 46 percent of those points compared to 19 percent for her opponent.
Sharapova pulled out the drop shot, an asset for her on clay, attempting to unbalance Muguruza. But Maria made rookie errors. Once she didn’t follow a perfect dropper to the net, but stood in the back court seemingly in hopes that Muguruza wouldn’t get it. Hoping for an opponent of Muguruza’s stature to miss a shot is not an effective strategy, but a reflection of a game gone awry, which sums up Sharapova’s play on Wednesday.
Victoria Azarenka was the one who handed Sharapova her worst loss six years ago at the Australian Open, 6-3, 6-0… but don’t feel sorry for Maria. The disappointment will dissolve. She’ll leave Paris with a quarterfinal result after a two-year absence. In fact, Maria will leave pumped, prepped and primed for the green grass of The All England Club.
Why not? That’s the place where she won her first major, beating Serena Williams in the final.
“I think my body will need a rest,” Sharapova began. “But, yeah, mentally I’m ready to go.”