Maria Sharapova was down two service breaks at 4-1 in the third set. Maria Sharapova posted 51 unforced errors, which could be interpreted to nearly 13 free games if those points came consecutively. Maria Sharapova was so close to the Australian Open exit that she faced two match points in the 10th game of the third set.
But no one who knows Maria thought it was a given she was about to be relegated to the players’ guest box to watch boyfriend Grigor Dimitrov continue on for the remainder of the Australian Open. That’s because Sharapova is a fighter – even when she’s in a negative state-of-mind she never ever gives up and somewhere finds the resolve to believe that no situation is inescapable.
That’s why, at the end of the day, it was Sharapova who won 6-1, 4-6, 7-5 over Russian qualifier Alexandra Panova to move ahead to the third round on Wednesday. Yes, Panova lacked the champion skill set of Sharapova – her first tour match win came in the first round. But Sharapova could’ve probably be facing anyone on the tour and pulled off that kind of quality.
FYI: She saved those match points with beautiful forehand winners. She didn’t play it safe – she doesn’t know safe. She went for all or nothing and the strategy worked.
One area that still needs improvement is the serve. To Sharapova’s credit she’s come back from major shoulder surgery and although it took time found a serve that worked and didn’t anger her injury. That said, every opponent knows her first serve routine – they know where she’s going with it, which makes for a much easier set up. Sharapova needs to add a surprise element to catch opponents off guard at times.
Sharapova understood she potentially was in serious danger so was clearly thrilled to come through.
“Certainly, after being a point away from going out,” said Sharapova, noting the possible outcome of the match. “At the end of the day it’s always nice to come through a challenge like that. That’s the biggest positive out of the match.”
Here’s what Sharapova was thinking up to that critical 10th game: “I thought my thought process through the match to that point was pretty negative. I think I was dwelling too much on my mistakes, what I was doing wrong, not really being in the present, something that I’m really usually good at. At that point when you’re behind and you feel like you’re making a lot of errors, you don’t feel like you have a good rhythm out there, I just really tried to take it a point at a time, think positively, and change my thought process a little bit. When other things aren’t working, maybe the mental side of things will help you out. I think in the end maybe that’s what did.”
Dimitrov, who won his second rounder in four sets over Lukas Lacko, offered this observation on why his lady love survived the test: “Days like that define who you are.” He continued to explain, “Well, I think I should be the last person to sort of judge that, but I think you can’t name one thing in particular with her. I think she’s been fighting throughout all those years, through everything that is in her way, jumped all the hurdles and all the obstacles. By far the greatest fighter ever.”