Caroline Garcia completed an incredible escape having been just two points away from defeat, but rebounded to oust five-time Grand Slam champion and former world number one Maria Sharapova in the opening round of the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix, triumphing with a marathon 3-6, 7-6, 6-4 scoreline having produced multiple comebacks throughout the entirety of the encounter.
It took Garcia two-hours and 44-minutes and even though she won lesser points than her opponent, the Frenchwoman overcame a slow start and grabbed the confidence-boosting win over the legendary Russian, progressing to the second set where she will face 15-year-old Marta Kostyuk.
Sharapova takes the terrific first set
Making the decision to start the match serving certainly reflected some confidence, and after some work with new coach Thomas Högstedt, her serves had a clear improvement after putting in a clean service game, closing it out with a powerful 181 km/h ace to stamp her authority across the court. Multiple double-faults saw Garcia being affected by a slow start, getting broken on the first attempt as Sharapova eventually powered to a commanding 3-0 lead within a blink of an eye, dictating all the rallies.
Sharapova was serving smartly and Garcia was having struggles returning the serves, often misfooting herself on those returns. Escaping from a dangerous 0-30 hole in the seventh game, the Russian put herself one game away from grabbing the first set with Garcia regretting her wrong shot choice on the crucial points. After just 34 minutes of play, the world number 41 wildcard recipient soon closed out the opening set 6-3 having lost just five points on serve.
Garcia escapes from the brink, levels the match
Garcia had a significant increase in her playing level and her hard work was finally rewarded with her first break point of the match, which Sharapova comfortably saved with a clean ace down the tee. The Russian was losing the momentum and had to struggle through her service games as Garcia earned multiple chances on the return.
Inability to find her first serves saw Sharapova panic, and crumble to the pressure while hitting a risky second serve, which ultimately saw her getting broken in the sixth game with Garcia finally grabbing her first break of the afternoon to take a 4-2 lead. However, a slew of unforced errors soon saw Sharapova break straight back, leveling the scores on her first attempt.
The match looked to be over when Sharapova edged closer towards the win having earned two break points at 4-4, but Garcia did not falter and instead came up with impressive kick serves which disrupted her opponent’s returning rhythm. That hold proved to be crucial, with the former world number one sending the set into a tiebreak eventually.
Garcia stormed to a commanding 6-3 lead in the tiebreak, earning triple set points and was in the driving seat to send the match into a deciding set. Once again, Sharapova’s serve saved her from the brink, hitting yet another ace to lessen the deficit. An improbable comeback looked plausible, especially when Sharapova leveled the scores at 6-6 having produced an excellent backhand winner to stun the crowd.
However, a forehand sent directly into the net from the Russian meant that the second set went to Garcia after a marathon 75-minute of play, with Sharapova’s double-faults proving costly during the crucial moments.
Sharapova loses early lead, gradually falters away
After a toilet-break for both players, Sharapova returned with a visible drop in her playing level, committing several uncharacteristic unforced errors to concede break points in the opening game. Nonetheless, a stunning backhand winner saw the Russian escape from trouble, closing out the nervy game which lasted a marathon.
Garcia followed suit, having troubles on her serve especially with Sharapova’s vicious returns posing as a huge obstacle. Nothing was going right for the Frenchwoman while it was the total opposite for her opponent, who powered out to a commanding 2-0 30-0 lead before a moment of misfocus sent her into a period of dismal.
Comfortable service holds followed for both players until Sharapova faced the pressure of serving at 4-4. Errors were leaking from every part of the Russian’s game, and Garcia took full advantage as she made the first breakthrough alongside with the golden opportunity to serve out the match. On her second match point, Garcia served an unreturnable kick serve, sealing the excellent win after two hours and 44-minutes of play.
Match Statistics: Sharapova wins on the statistics board, but Garcia wins on the scoreboard
Stunningly, Sharapova’s serve had a drastic improvement under the guidance of Högstedt having served in 17 powerful and well-placed aces though it also came along with a heavy price tag of 10 double-faults, all of which came at the important moments.
Garcia ended the match with an equal number of winners and errors (25) while surprisingly, Sharapova blasted 39 winners past the Frenchwoman with the same number of unforced errors. Furthermore, Sharapova won two more points but Garcia had the edge during the important points, recovering from a deficit in both sets to grab the win.