Maria Sharapova sealed her return to the top-40 for the first time in her comeback after ousting world number 22 Kristina Mladenovic in the third round of the Mutua Madrid Open, making her first quarterfinal appearance in a Premier Mandatory tournament since 2015, while this is just her second last eight appearance this year. With three consecutive straight-sets wins, Sharapova has a decent chance to be seeded at Roland Garros if she were to defeat Kiki Bertens in her quarterfinal match later on.
Defending finalist points, Mladenovic will fall to the 30th position at best though she will still be on course to be seeded at her home Slam. Sharapova was firing on all cylinders throughout the majority of the match, blasting 30 winners to just 20 unforced errors as Mladenovic’s statistics were a little disappointing, hitting just a mere 12 winners while committing 12 errors.
Sharapova recovers from an early deficit, takes the opening set 6-3
It was relatively obvious that Sharapova’s tactics coming into this match is to quicken the rallies and shorten them as much as possible, using the power on her shots to dictate play. However, the Russian had a slow start and was firing errors on almost all the occasions, gifting Mladenovic with the confidence-boosting break in the first game.
Sharapova failed to find her first serves consistently while the Frenchwoman looked solid at the baseline game, matching up with her opponent in terms of power. Looking extremely comfortable on her serve, Mladenovic next bossed the play with her serves being just too good for the slow-starting Sharapova.
A surprise on-court coaching call came from Sharapova early at the first full changeover of the match, but it was a decision and risk well-taken as the Russian started to viciously attack Mladenovic’s weaker backhand wing. This resulted in an immediate break back with Sharapova sending in two consecutive impressive forehand winners, leveling the scores at 3-3.
Riding on her unstoppable momentum, the former world number one took the lead for the first time in the match, before consecutive double-faults from Mladenovic saw her getting broken for the second straight time, allowing Sharapova to jump out to a commanding 5-3 lead within a blink of an eye.
The pressure caused the five-time Major champion to produce several nervous errors on set points, but she was finally third-time lucky as Sharapova took her fifth game on the trot, sealing the first set 6-3 after just 39 minutes of play with her third ace of the day.
Mladenovic puts up a tougher fight but inspired Sharapova prevails
Everything seemed to be going in Sharapova’s favour despite Mladenovic benefitting from an on-court coaching timeout. With advice from her mother, the Frenchwoman came into the second set being more aggressive than usual, with the goal of finishing the points rather than extending the rallies to tire the Russian. Fending off a break point for the first time, Mladenovic had the encouraging service hold with a fantastic second-serve ace on game point.
Six consecutive holds started the second set though it was the last of all which had the largest impact on the match outcome. Sharapova survived an intensified service game and Mladenovic played several impressive points, though she did not have the ability to go up against the world number 52’s unreturnable powerful serves.
Inability to produce a breakthrough in the previous game affected Mladenovic mentally, as unforced errors started to leak from everywhere in her game. A forehand sent long ultimately allowed Sharapova to draw the first blood, and she calmly consolidated the break alongside earning the chance to serve out the match after the Frenchwoman put in an inspired hold to lessen the deficit.
Nonetheless, Sharapova was able to close out the match on her first opportunity, grabbing the confident 6-3, 6-4 victory after an hour and 32-minutes of play. Losing serve just once in the opening game, it was yet another excellent win for the acclaimed Russian as she stormed into the quarterfinals in Madrid.