French Open 2015: Sharapova and Ivanovic up the pace as Stosur and Kerber fall

Maria Sharapova and Ana Ivanovic both secure victories at the French Open, as Sam Stosur and Angelique Kerber lose

Amid a fine day’s offering of women’s tennis as the third round got under way at Roland Garros, there was plenty to whet the appetite.

The fairytale story of 33-year-old Mirjana Lucic-Baroni continued against one of only two Frenchwomen left in the draw and the only seed, No29 Alize Cornet. Such was the appeal of Lucic-Baroni, and her return after a decade away from the sport, that she may even earn a little support from the partisan home crowd.

Ana Ivanovic, who won her first and only Grand Slam here as a 20-year-old in 2008 had failed to get beyond the fourth round since, and had already toughed out two three-setters before facing talented teenager Donna Vekic.

There was Italian darling and fellow 33-year-old Flavia Pennetta, taking on the feisty and fast-rising Spaniard Carla Suarez Navarro in an attempt to equal her best ever run at the French Open and continue her ever-improving Grand Slam results.

And No11 seed Angelique Kerber and No21 seed Garbine Muguruza promised a contest of power and speed. The Spanish youngster’s quarter-final run last year included the defeat of Serena Williams, while Kerber’s two clay titles this season, a 17-2 win-loss record, put her at the top of the clay win-loss table on the women’s tour.

But there was no doubting the standout contest of the day, which pitted defending champion and No2 seed Maria Sharapova against former French Open finalist—three times a semi-finalist—No26 seed Sam Stosur. What made their meeting so eagerly anticipated was what happened here last year, a thriller of a contest in which Stosur led 6-3, 4-3. But in one of the turnarounds of Grand Slam match-play, the Russian won the next nine games to win, 6-4, 6-0.

Naturally both women were asked for their memories of that match, and their thoughts about their imminent rematch.

First Sharapova:
“There are a lot of untraditional things she does, but I guess I enjoy the challenge of playing her. I have a pretty good record against her, I enjoy our matches.”

And Stosur:
“Playing Maria is always a big challenge for me. No matter what surface it’s on, I don’t have a very good record at all. Obviously we played last year—the last time we played each other. So I’ve got to be ready to play as well, if not better, than what I’ve been doing. Hopefully this time if I do get in a position, it won’t fall away so quickly.”

After a slow start to the year, Stosur had now won eight of her last 10 matches, including the title last week at Strasbourg. She credited much of her return to form down to her recent reunion with long-time coach Dave Taylor—and it certainly showed.

But then Sharapova owned the highest winning percentage at Roland Garros, and had won 64 of her last 70 matches on clay, including the Rome title a fortnight ago. And to top all that, she had won 14 of her 16 matches against Stosur, including all four previous clay court matches.

In the event, this would not reproduce the drama of last year, but perhaps it is foolish to revisit history with such expectations. Stosur could not find her best form and Sharapova took advantage with a 6-3, 6-4 scoreline that belied the long grind it took for the defending champion to reach the fourth round: a full hour and 40mins.

Stosur let an immediate break slip away and Sharapova broke again in the sixth, but they would exchange another break apiece before Sharapova served it out, 6-3. Both women had notched up more errors than winners, and that trend would continue.

Stosur fought doggedly to fend off a break in the first game of the second set but was always struggling with the cool, heavy conditions. Sharapova got the decisive break in the seventh game and served it out, 6-4, with just 12 winners to 21 errors. Stosur, though, had made 34 errors for only 19 winners and was understandably disappointed that her performance had not lived up to her form and hopes:

“It was all round a bit sloppy. Never really felt like I played really well for long periods of the match. Kind of got that break at 2-1, and then handed it straight back with a pretty average game. Never any momentum; never any rhythm or anything to the match. It was incredibly frustrating.”

Sharapova, who has been carrying a cold since she started the defence of her title this week, was just relieved it was not a tougher battle.

“I was just really happy to win this one. You know, I knew it was going to be a tough one going into the match. Considering the start of the week was really tough, I knew I had a tough opponent, and I just wanted to be as ready as I could. I was really happy to win it.”

Awaiting Sharapova in the fourth round is No13 seed Lucie Safarova, who beat No20 seed Sabine Lisicki, 6-3, 7-6(2).

As for those first two contests, they played out in very contrasting directions. Ivanovic and Lucic-Baroni began their matches simultaneously on the two show courts, and within 20 minutes, both had reached 4-0 and both were pressing for another break. Both would go on to claim the first set, but already fortunes were swinging.

Ivanovic raced to a 6-0 set in 23 minutes, while Lucic-Baroni managed her opener, 6-4, in 40 minutes. In the second set, Ivanovic, who outplayed Vekic with ease, completing the win in another 30 minutes, 6-3. However, Cornet made a strong comeback, egged on by the passionate French crowd, to steal her match after 2hrs 32mins, 4-6, 6-3, 7-5.

Awaiting the French woman is No19 seed, Elina Svitolina, who reached her first Grand Slam fourth round by beating Annika Beck, 6-3, 2-6, 6-4. Ivanovic, who is in the same quarter as Cornet, will next play Ekaterina Makarova, who beat Elena Vesnina, 6-2, 6-4.

In Sharapova’s quarter, it was Muguruza who came through, 4-6, 6-2, 6-2 against Kerber, and will next play Pennetta.

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