Eighth seed Magdalena Rybarikova shocked all Russian fans when she shockingly defeated former world number one Maria Sharapova in the first round of the Kremlin Cup, marking the end of Sharapova’s season. Both players had a late arrival into Moscow as they reached finals in their respective tournaments last week, but the home favorite was looking erratic throughout the whole match as Rybarikova’s variety caused too much problems for the Russian, ultimately taking the tough 7-6, 6-4 win.
Sharapova holds on in nervy start
With the crowd fully behind Sharapova, she had an extremely shaky start to the match as Rybarikova made the sensible decision of letting her opponent serve in the opening game. The Russian was misfiring earlier on, with her backhands looking very inconsistent. Nonetheless, two consecutive big first serves came from the server and a loud “Come on” ended the opening game with Sharapova getting the much-needed hold. Reaching the final in Linz last week, Rybarikova was full of confidence coming into this encounter, and she reflected that with a comfortable service hold in the next game.
She continued to dig deep in Sharapova’s service games, and this time she earned three break points in the third game with the golden opportunity to breakthrough. However, the home favorite stood firm and came up with some clutch and powerful second serves on those points to remain on serve. Rybarikova was ultra-comfortable on her serve, with Sharapova unable to find the rhythm on her returns as she won just seven return points in five games, with the scores ultimately going to 5-5.
Sharapova falters at the eleventh hour
After being so close to a break earlier in the set, the Slovakian earned another four break point opportunities in the eleventh game. However, Sharapova was determined to hold onto her serve, throwing in a second-serve ace and blasting a backhand winner to save them. Nonetheless, Rybarikova finally earned the lead after the former world number one sent a forehand into the net, gifting her the golden opportunity to serve out the set.
A coaching time-out seemed to have benefitted Sharapova as she played her best return game of the match, sending in some bullet-like returns to proceed into a tiebreak. After jumping out to a commanding 2-0 lead with an excellent running forehand down-the-line winner, Sharapova lost her way as she started to throw in more unforced errors, losing seven of the next eight points which gifted Rybarikova the first set after an hour and 10 minutes of play.
Rybarikova gets perfect start to the second set
Many thought that Rybarikova would easily close out the win especially with Sharapova possibly being hampered by a left leg injury as seen by the tape on her thigh, and fatigue could have affected her. That seemed the case when the Slovakian powered herself to a comfortable service hold in the opening game of the second set before earning a break point in the second set. Sharapova looked like she was going to falter, but her tough mentality kept her in the match as she came back to clinch the narrow service hold.
The Slovakian takes the win
The second set was much of a similar story as compared to the first with neither of them able to find a breakthrough on the return. However, this time Sharapova was more solid on her serve as she limited Rybarikova to only five return points in four return games.
The Russian then threatened to make a huge breakthrough late in the set, earning two break points in the ninth game knowing that she could serve out the set had she converted her opportunities. However, Sharapova was too nervy on those points and produced some unforced errors which eventually gave Rybarikova the much-needed service hold.
The Slovakian was repeatedly seen holding her leg, which could have affected her in her play as well, and she looked tired having just arrived in Moscow yesterday night from Linz. Being just one game away from the victory, the eighth seed made the final push, with Sharapova aiding her with continuous unforced errors, including one on match point, to gift Rybarikova with the impressive victory after an hour and 58 minutes of play.