French Open: Maria Sharapova seals incredible comeback, fights off Richel Hogenkamp in three sets

Maria Sharapova was not at her best level but her fighting spirit was evident as the Russian won six consecutive games to seal a nervy 6-1, 4-6, 6-3 win over Richel Hogenkamp in the opening round of the French Open.

French Open: Maria Sharapova seals incredible comeback, fights off Richel Hogenkamp in three sets
Maria Sharapova applauds the supportive crowd after the win | Photo: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images Europe
Maria Sharapova
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Richel Hogenkamp

Maria Sharapova was unexpectedly dragged to the distance in her first-round match at the 2018 French Open after qualifier Richel Hogenkamp lit up the upset signs but failed to convert on her chances, putting up a tough fight but the experienced Russian ultimately claimed the thrilling 6-1, 4-6, 6-3 win after an hour and 54-minutes of play out on Court Suzanne Lenglen.

After a terrific and one-sided start, Sharapova found herself comfortably leading 6-1, 3-1 before Hogenkamp changed her tactics and came firing back — rattling off six consecutive games for a 1-6, 6-4, 3-0 lead. She was strolling in the decider before she faltered at the sight of the finishing line, and Sharapova’s killer instinct alongside her confidence soon came back. The Russian fired six consecutive games, taking the nervy opening win to set up a mouthwatering clash against Donna Vekic.

Maria Sharapova produced the massive comeback — rattling off six consecutive games | Photo: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images Europe
Maria Sharapova produced the massive comeback — rattling off six consecutive games | Photo: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images Europe

Sharapova strolls to take the opening set

It was a stunning start to the match from Sharapova as she opened the match by claiming 12 of the first 14 points, firing eight winners within a blink of an eye. The Russian was finding her range and her forehands were working extremely well; taking time off Hogenkamp as the match seemed to be on her racquet.

Errors from the former world number one then gifted Hogenkamp several free points, allowing her to get on board in the match as she looked to lessen the deficit. However, Sharapova did not allow her to do so. The 28th seed was hitting with precision and accuracy and looked in top form with her firing drop shot winners, and Hogenkamp could do nothing about it.

Maria Sharapova's forehands were firing on all cylinders early on | Photo: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images Europe
Maria Sharapova's forehands were firing on all cylinders early on | Photo: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images Europe

A series of powerful returns then set Sharapova up for yet another service break, and she ultimately served out the opening set 6-1 after just 24 minutes of play, hitting 12 winners to just seven errors while claiming 81 percent of her first-service points. Whereas, Hogenkamp won just five points on serve, unable to gain any rhythm on her shots.

Hogenkamp produces an incredible comeback, stuns Sharapova

It was once again the perfect start to the second set for Sharapova, this time earning the early break once more. She was dictating play and her aggressive groundstrokes could not be handled by Hogenkamp, who looked helpless on the court. Sharapova was absolutely strolling through the games and seemed on course for the routine win after opening up a commanding 3-1 lead.

Maria Sharapova completely lost the plot from 6-1, 3-1 up | Photo: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images Europe
Maria Sharapova completely lost the plot from 6-1, 3-1 up | Photo: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images Europe

However, from there it was all Hogenkamp’s business. Everything needed to be was just Sharapova’s first poor drop shot of the match and the momentum totally shifted towards the Dutch. Hogenkamp started to change her tactics — using her backhand slices well and attempting to outhit Sharapova at the baseline — and they worked.

Within a blink of an eye, Hogenkamp came out of nowhere and leveled the scores at 3-3, before leveling the scores once more after Sharapova put in an excellent return game. The Russian’s serve completely collapsed as she won just 50 percent of her first service points, and was clearly struggling on her second serves. Hogenkamp played with confidence, and some impressive aggressive play from the Dutch eventually earned her the second set 6-4.

Richel Hogenkamp made successful changes to her tactics and played fearlessly to take the second set | Photo: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images Europe
Richel Hogenkamp made successful changes to her tactics and played fearlessly to take the second set | Photo: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images Europe

Sharapova comes up with incredible escape, claims the tough win

The incredible upset was on the cards after Hogenkamp continued to ride on her momentum and claimed 12 of the first 17 points in the final set. Sharapova was committing a slew of unforced errors while Hogenkamp played some flawless tennis — making no unforced errors in the first four games.

Hogenkamp stunningly stormed out to a formidable 3-0 lead in the final set and the whole tennis world was having its eyes on this match as the 28th seed and two-time champion was expected to stroll through the match in straight sets. Sharapova’s unbelievable nerves of steel were able to save her from the brink and stop the rout, serving down an unreturnable serve to get on board in the final set.

Richel Hogenkamp will be proud of her efforts today | Photo: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images Europe
Richel Hogenkamp will be proud of her efforts today | Photo: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images Europe

The pressure started to overwhelm Hogenkamp as Sharapova’s killer instinct came firing back. The Dutch committed a double-fault at deuce before the Russian prevailed in a baseline battle to grab the break back out of nowhere. In what could be the game which changed the outcome of the match, Sharapova’s second serves did the job as she fended off two break points to grab the confidence-boosting hold.

The qualifier started to make countless errors, and Sharapova dutifully took advantage as she took four consecutive games to earn the 4-3 lead. It seemed like the first set once again, with the Russian firing on all cylinders but this time Hogenkamp was getting increasingly frustrated with her own errors. Serving to stay in the match, the Dutch’s game crumbled as Sharapova surged on and completed the impressive win after winning six games on the trot, hitting 35 winners and just 29 unforced errors in total.

Both players meet at the net for a nice handshake after the match | Photo: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images Europe
Both players meet at the net for a nice handshake after the match | Photo: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images Europe