Arguably, the best match of the 2017 WTA season was played out at the Mutua Madrid Open. The drama was there, the quality was there — the match had everything; drop shots, lobs, passing shots, every possible shot in tennis was there. Eugenie Bouchard, in what could be her best performance since her breakthrough season in 2014, put in an excellent performance to oust nemesis Maria Sharapova in the second round for the first time in her career, prevailing 7-5, 2-6, 6-4 after a thrilling two-hours, 51-minutes.
Coming into the match, Bouchard had some harsh comments about the Russian’s comeback to tennis after her suspension expired, which made this encounter highly-anticipated. As expected, this match lived up to its hype, putting up a late-night thriller for the fans on Caja Magica.
Bouchard produces incredible comeback to stun Sharapova
Sharapova looked focused at the start of the match, and she had the perfect start as the Russian produced a clean service hold in the opening game. She then earned a break point in the next game but Bouchard came up with some impressive serving, throwing in a couple of aces to get on board.
After an exchange of service holds, it was Sharapova who found herself in deep trouble as Bouchard was firing on all cylinders, earning her chance to make the breakthrough. The quality of the match only got higher as Sharapova blasted two excellent backhand winners to dig herself out of the deficit. Bouchard would rue her missed opportunities since the Russian went on to make the first breakthrough with a bullet-like forehand return winner, and another routine win looked to be possible.
However, the Canadian made an immediate fightback, saving a game point as she moved Sharapova all around the court, particularly with her world-class cross-court groundstrokes. Her aggressive tennis was simply unstoppable as it frustrated Sharapova, who soon found herself trailing 4-5 within a blink of an eye. An on-court coaching session with Sven Groeneveld allowed Sharapova to change her tactics, and sent her powerful returns down the middle of the court, allowing her to break straight back and stop the rout when it mattered.
Things started to go terribly wrong for Sharapova in the 11th game, as she failed to anticipate Bouchard’s solid baseline game. The unseeded Canadian was doing a great job in turning defense into offense, utilizing her trademark aggressive forehand to turn the tables. Wasting three game points, including hitting a double-fault on one of them, Sharapova saw Bouchard regain the lead and earn her second attempt at serving out the set. Amidst the Russian’s toughest efforts which saw her produce several incredible winners, Bouchard’s powerful serving ultimately proved to be deadly as she closed out the first set after a thrilling 1-hour and 10-minutes.
Sharapova comes up with a perfect response, sends the match into a deciding set
The start of the second set was less complicated, with five consecutive service holds setting up the latter stages of the set. With Bouchard having all the momentum running in her, the Canadian was having no problems on her serve while Sharapova struggled to find her groove, with all the unforced errors coming untimely for the Russian as she conceded a break point opportunity in the third game. However, Sharapova managed to fend it off with a brilliant backhand cross-court winner and ultimately managed to hang onto her service game.
All it took was just a simple changeover and the momentum was totally shifted. The composed Sharapova rattled off consecutive backhand down-the-line winners before Bouchard completely lost the plot, throwing in two unfortunate double-faults which allowed the Russian to make the first breakthrough of the set. Claiming 12 of the last 13 points, Sharapova impressively consolidated the break for a commanding 5-2 lead. Serving to stay in the set, Bouchard was starting to get outplayed by the hard-hitting Russian, with Sharapova soon taking the second set 6-2 after just 38 minutes of play.
Bouchard stuns the world, claims thrilling win in three sets
The final set was definitely one of the bests in 2017, and the drama was ever-present as the opening five games all went to deuce. Despite throwing in some wild errors on her backhands, Sharapova grabbed the confidence-boosting start to the decider, holding her serve narrowly. Bouchard slowly found the rhythm on her shots once again, before impressively saving a break point to remain on serve.
It seemed like everything was going in Bouchard’s favor when the Russian went down 0-40 in her service game, but nothing could stop the fighting spirit of Sharapova as she fended off triple break points with some fearless second serves and solid baseline game. The match just gets juicier as time progressed, with Sharapova earning break points of her own this time. Bouchard’s solid and nerveless serving was just too good for the Russian as the former world number one’s return game abandoned her at the crucial moments.
Yet again, Sharapova was in deep trouble on her serve with her inability to close out the points proving to be crucial. However, the Russian stamped her authority across the stadium when she impressively came up with some clutch serving to fend off an incredible five break points to narrowly stay ahead in the final set. After what seemed like an eternity, Bouchard had the first drama-free service hold before Sharapova found herself trailing 0-40 in her third consecutive service game. The Russian wasn’t third-time lucky as she lost all the rhythm on her shots, allowing Bouchard to make the first breakthrough.
Nonetheless, Sharapova made the Canadian work hard as she broke straight back with some amazing backhand winners. The ninth game of the final set was arguably the best game played by Bouchard, who fought from 40-15 down as the Russian committed untimely errors to immediately gift Bouchard back the lead. This also gave the Canadian a golden opportunity to serve out the match. Although Sharapova was able to come up with two break points and fend off a match point with some world-class defense, Bouchard held her nerves and finally closed out the marathon win after two-hours, 50-minutes.
Stats Corner: Well-played by both players
All in all, despite how the statistics claim, it was an extremely high-quality match. Both players ended the match with a negative winner to unforced error ratio, with Sharapova’s numbers being more notable. The Russian was the clear hunter in the match, blasting a total of 44 winners but her risky play also had to pay a price, which came along the 49 errors she produced during crucial moments. Though, Bouchard managed to challenge Sharapova at the baseline, coming up with 20 winners and 27 errors of her own. Sharapova also threw in a disappointing nine double-faults, with her serve looking all over the place. The five-time Grand Slam champions struggled on her serve, with her second serves being exploited by the aggressive Canadian.
However, the most crucial statistic of the match was arguably the break points. Sharapova had her chances to win the match, and actually won more points than Bouchard did. Both players earned a combined 36 break points throughout the match, with each of them converting five only. Bouchard allowed Sharapova to hold serve in four games where she faced break points, while the former world number one failed to capitalize on her opportunities in five different games, most notably the last games of the first set and decider.
Aftermath: Sharapova struggles with injuries while Bouchard fails to rekindle her form
Sharapova went on to compete at the Internazionali BNL D’Italia, where she sustained a left hamstring injury which kept her out of the grass-court season. Her injury problems continued to frustrate her as another forearm issue forced her to withdraw from two hard-court tournaments (Toronto and Cincinnati) before making her return to the fourth-round at the US Open, defeating world number two Simona Halep along the way. The Russian ended the year ranked 60th, winning her first WTA title in over two years at the Tianjin Open.
Bouchard was able to follow up her victory with yet another impressive performance against world number one Angelique Kerber, triumphing 6-3, 5-0 ret after the German was forced to retire due to a lingering hamstring issue. However, her run was stopped by Sharapova’s compatriot Svetlana Kuznetsova in the quarterfinals. Bouchard was unable to reproduce the top form she displayed all week in Madrid, and her inability to reach another quarterfinal throughout the remainder of the year eventually caused her to end the year in the 80th spot, her lowest since 2012.