Valdosta Daily Times

Local Sports

June 6, 2014

2012 champ Sharapova awaits Halep in French final

PARIS — Might be easier said than done. Still, Maria Sharapova offered a tidy aphorism to sum up the formula that’s carried her to a third consecutive French Open final.

“It’s not how you finish a first set,” Sharapova said, “it’s how you finish the last set.”

Right now, no one is a better closer than she is on clay. Nearing a second championship at Roland Garros, and fifth Grand Slam trophy overall, Sharapova gritted her way to yet another comeback victory, beating 18th-seeded Eugenie Bouchard of Canada 4-6, 7-5, 6-2 in the semifinals Thursday.

“If some things are not working out, I don’t just want to quit in the middle. Because when you lose the first set or a few games or you’re down a break, that’s not the end of the match,” Sharapova said. “That’s the type of philosophy that I play with.”

She famously described herself years ago as feeling like a “cow on ice” on clay, but Sharapova now has won her past 19 matches that went to three sets on the demanding surface.

In Saturday’s final, the No. 7-seeded Sharapova will face No. 4 Simona Halep, a 22-year-old Romanian who never before had been past the quarterfinals at a major. Halep turned in a much more straightforward victory than Sharapova, eliminating No. 28 Andrea Petkovic of Germany 6-2, 7-6 (4).

“I have a lot of confidence in myself now,” said Halep, who a year ago was ranked only 57th and lost in the first round in Paris for the third time since 2010. “I played really well here; a few good matches. But next round will be very tough. I know Maria. She’s a great champion.”

She is 0-3 against Sharapova. But Halep has claimed seven titles since the start of last season — “Impressive 12 months,” she called it — and used her smooth movement and smart angles to win all 12 sets she’s played these two weeks.

Sharapova took a more difficult route to her ninth Grand Slam final.

In the fourth round against 2011 U.S. Open champion Samantha Stosur, Sharapova trailed 6-3, 4-3, then won the last nine games.

In the quarterfinals against 20-year-old Garbine Muguruza, the woman who stunned Serena Williams last week, Sharapova trailed 6-1, 5-4, then won nine of the last 10 games.

That pattern continued against another 20-year-old, Bouchard. After dropping the first set, then standing two games from defeat at 5-all in the second, Sharapova won eight of the last 10 games.

She did it by playing aggressively in crunch time, risking more but also coming through more. After Bouchard’s ability to take the ball early helped her build a 13-8 edge in winners in the first set, Sharapova had a 25-16 edge in that category over the last two, celebrating most by shaking her left fist and crying, “Come on!”

“She kind of elevated her game a little bit,” said Bouchard, who had been 9-0 in Grand Slam matches when winning the opening set.

This was only Bouchard’s fifth major tournament, her second in a row reaching the semifinals.

Less than two years ago, Bouchard was at the junior level, winning the Wimbledon girls’ title.

“She is literally just scratching the surface,” said Nick Saviano, Bouchard’s coach. “She can play a much, much higher level as she goes along. She’s going to get faster. She’s going to get stronger.”

The 27-year-old Sharapova already owns a career Grand Slam, with titles at Wimbledon in 2004, the U.S. Open in 2006, the Australian Open in 2008, and the French Open two years ago. And for someone who used to have a hard time on clay, she is 53-4 with six titles on it since the start of 2012; three of those losses came against Williams, including in the 2013 French Open final.

“Sharapova does a good job of trying to stay in the moment,” Saviano said. “She’s got a lot of experience and a lot of fight. And she’s been around a long time.”

Sharapova put aside various problems she had Thursday, including nine double-faults, two that wasted set points at 5-3 in the second. She showed terrific defense and court coverage when it counted most, forcing Bouchard to hit extra shots.

Most important, at 2-1 in both the second and third sets, Bouchard raced to 40-love leads on her serve, only to have Sharapova steel herself and wind up breaking.

“I didn’t feel that I was playing my best,” Sharapova said. “I fought, I scrambled, and I found a way to win.”

1
Text Only
Local Sports
  • 0728-Lowndes practice4.jpg Vikings working out with padded practice, scrimmage on the horizon

    The look was familiar Monday at Martin Stadium.
    The Lowndes High football team’s conditioning practice was essentially a duplicate of the workouts the Vikings have completed throughout the summer.

    July 29, 2014 1 Photo

  • Thomasville_Ryals.jpg South Georgia special for high school coaches

    Phillip Johnson remembers when he had a “Wizard of Oz” moment.
    The North Carolina native moved to Georgia when he was 26 and Johnson, now Lanier County’s second-year head coach, recalls a 7-on-7 tournament leading to the realization that he wasn’t in Kansas — or in his case, North Carolina — anymore.
     

    July 29, 2014 1 Photo

  • Nolin settling in as new VSU soccer coach

    Meet Rebecca Nolin, VSU's new soccer coach.

    July 28, 2014

  • Induction Crowd: Honorees were genuine, down to earth

    More than 48,000 people gathered under the scorching sun at The Clark Sports Center for the 75th National Baseball Hall of Fame Induction Sunday, including one woman who carpooled to the event with more than 40 other people.

    July 28, 2014

  • Braves trio all business at inductions

    The Braves seemed almost businesslike in their approach -- something you might expect from a trio that won so consistently.
    Managers Joe Torre and Tony La Russa also remained calm and collected throughout their addresses.
    Frank Thomas took care of the emotional side, his voice breaking and his eyes moist during a heartfelt speech Sunday at the Clark Sports Center.
     

    July 28, 2014

  • Cooperstown Merchants: Weekend was a success

    Cooperstown merchants are elated about the exceptionally prosperous Hall of Fame Induction Weekend, several storekeepers said Sunday.

    During an afternoon lull in business, when the National Baseball Hall of Fame's induction ceremony was taking place, area shop and restaurant owners took a quick breath, reflected and expressed satisfaction with their sales for the weekend.
     

    July 28, 2014

  • Hall of Famers thank fathers for stepping up to the plate

    Great ballplayers thanking their dads at a Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony is about as original as oil and vinegar are to an Italian restaurant.

    July 28, 2014

  • Hall_Maddux.jpg Hall of Braves

    The weird part was that Jeff Idelson didn't take a lot of time to answer.
    "Is there any word or description that unifies this class?" was the query posed to the National Baseball Hall of Fame's president.
    "The common thread among the six is profound humility," Idelson said of former managers Joe Torre, Bobby Cox and Tony La Russa, and former players Frank Thomas, Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, all of whom will be inducted into the Hall today. "I don't think I realized that fully until I spent time with them in December. It was uncanny to me, for the cumulative star power in that group, the humility among them. I think that's felt really strongly with baseball fans."

    July 27, 2014 2 Photos 1 Story

  • Hall_Cox.jpg Cox’s willingness to defend players stands out to local coaches

    Bobby Cox will be able to add Hall of Famer to his resume when he is inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame today in Cooperstown, N.Y.
    But the former Atlanta Braves manager’s legacy will remain the same to area baseball coaches: his willingness to defend his players.

    July 27, 2014 1 Photo 1 Story

  • Valwood_Henderson.jpg Area teams hoping to get over the hump

    Past successes lead to present and future expectations.
    That’s the task faced by pretty much all 12 area high school football coaches present Saturday at In The Game Magazine’s South Georgia Football media day at the Holiday Inn conference center.
    It’s a task that also has the elite group searching for answers as to how to get past the state championship road block in recent years, aside from Valwood’s GISA Class AA crown in 2012.

    July 27, 2014 1 Photo

Blazers Blog
More