In one of her best performances of the season, Eugenie Bouchard showed glimpses of her old form to record an improbable upset over 2014 Mutua Madrid Open champion Maria Sharapova to advance to the third round at the Caja Magica.
Brilliant Bouchard Claims Epic 70-Minute Opening Set
With a lot riding on this match, especially given Bouchard’s recent comments about Sharapova’s return to women’s tennis, both players weren’t willing to give an inch, but it was the two-time French Open champion that would strike first with some lights-out hitting, claiming the first break in the sixth game with a crunching forehand return.
But not to be outdone, Bouchard suddenly found a new gear and responded with a break of her own in the next game, breaking at the third time of asking with her trademark aggression to get back on serve. Continuing to ride this wave of momentum, the Canadian’s astounding defence paired with a few untimely unforced errors from Sharapova’s racquet resulted in a second break of serve for the world number 60, this one putting her in a position to serve for the set at 5-4.
But refusing to back down from her trademark offensive game, Sharapova’s persistence ultimately got the final reward as the Russian would break straight back, drawing the match level at five-games-apiece. With both players now finding a new gear in the race for the opening set, it was Bouchard who would come out on top, breaking in a 12-minute eleventh game before serving her way out of trouble to take the opener, 7-5.
Sensational Sharapova Forces Decider
Having come from a set down to defeat a spirited Mirjana Lucic-Baroni in her first match of the week, Sharapova began to turn up the heat once again, finding a new focus that simply couldn’t be matched from Bouchard. In a case of déjà-vu, both players would hold until the sixth game where the former champion was finally able to make the breakthrough, earning a commanding 4-2 lead.
But unlike in the opening frame where it all seemed to go wrong from there, the Russian would learn from her mistakes, commanding the court with some stunning defence of her own paired with some astonishing angles to storm through the second set, 6-2.
Bouchard Battles to First-Ever Victory Over Sharapova
In one of the most unpredictable sets one will probably ever see, both women seemed to find themselves in all sorts of trouble on serve time and again, but both managed to come through relatively unscathed despite three consecutive 0-40 scares that the server managed to win every time. But unlike in the first two sets, it was Bouchard who managed to snag the first break, finally able to convert her ninth break point of the set in the seventh game to move within two games of recording her first victory over the two-time Roland Garros champion.
But with her trademark fighting spirit in tow, Sharapova refused to go down quietly, breaking back almost immediately to draw level at four-games-all with two hours and 38 minutes on the clock. But Bouchard was not to be denied in the end as the Canadian’s unwavering persistence allowed her to reel off four points in a row to earn a golden opportunity to serve for the match as Sharapova’s backhand slid into the tramlines, which was an opportunity she would gladly take with both hands.
After missing out on a golden chance the first time around, the former Wimbledon finalist would not be denied on her second match point, sending a picture-perfect crosscourt forehand into the corner to complete an improbable upset over the former world number one.
Stats Corner: Bouchard Just Better When It Mattered Most
Despite winning five fewer points than her Russian counterpart, the 23-year-old was not only able to maintain the level she’s been searching for for months but was also able to find her best tennis when it mattered most. In all, Sharapova remained the aggressor, hitting 44 winners to 49 unforced errors, while Bouchard struck just 20 winners, but a substantially lower number of unforced errors (27).
In a match that saw both players have a total of 36 break point chances, just 10 were taken (five by each woman), but it was the crucial break in the ninth game of the decider where Sharapova had chances to go up 5-4 that ultimately made the difference for the Canadian.
Next Up for Bouchard: Kerber
Awaiting Bouchard in the third round is another familiar foe in top seed Angelique Kerber, who survived a grueling three-set tussle with Czech rising star Katerina Siniakova earlier in the day. Impressively, Bouchard holds a slender 3-2 lead in the head-to-head record with the former world number one, including a 2-0 record on clay, with their most recent meeting on the red dirt coming last year at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia.