Kristina Mladenovic took on Maria Sharapova in a blockbuster clash for a spot in the finals. Back from a 15-month ban, the Russian was looking to make it to her fourth Stuttgart final and was looking very sharp in her previous matches. Standing in her way was Mladenovic who herself had an impressive run beating the defending champion Angelique Kerber en route to the finals and having beat players she had not defeated before. Likewise, she had not beat the former world number one before, in their only-ever meeting in 2013.
Sharapova started better of the two capitalizing on some poor serving from the Frenchwoman to take the first set. And when she got the early break in the set, it was looking like an uphill task for Mladenovic. However, the Frenchwoman did not back down edging a very tense second set to force the decider. Sharapova’s level started to dip slightly while Mladenovic got better and in the end, the match ended with some great skills shown by the Frenchwoman at the net, who broke to close out a 3-6, 7-5, 6-4 victory.
One break seals the set for Sharapova
Mladenovic was already on the backfoot in the early stages having to save three break points to hold for 1-1. Her first serve percentage was dismal and it was allowing Sharapova to punish with huge returns. It was that struggle which culminated in an unfortunate double fault handing the Russian the break. The three-time champion was steady in her service games and was barely ruffled. The Frenchwoman did her part to hold her next couple of service games but was unable to threaten Sharapova’s serve as the Russian closed out the set 6-3.
Poor start from Mladenovic but she fights back with some guts
Mladenovic’s woes continued in the second set as she was broken right away. In the third game, though, the Frenchwoman produced her best service game of the match thus far, holding to love in quick fashion. That seemed to spur her on as, after the sit-down, Mladenovic stepped it up a notch, getting more returns in. Sharapova though hit an ill-timed double fault and the Frenchwoman capitalized to break back and level for 2-2. She followed it up with another impressive service game to edge her nose ahead for 3-2.
That did not, however, last long as her serving trouble came back but this time she later managed to fend off the Russian to hold for 4-3. Her next two games went in similar fashion. Mladenovic was down 15-30 but each time somehow remained composed to get herself out of trouble. It was especially nerve wrecking in the 11th game where it went over 10 minutes, with her struggle with serves but she came through in the end with a delicious drop shot to edge ahead for 6-5. Sharapova, who had been piling on the pressure for most parts of the set, then uncharacteristically sent a double fault to hand the Frenchwoman set point. In danger of surrendering the set, the Russian found the net instead with her shot and Mladenovic grabbed the set 7-5.
Mladenovic improves while Sharapova wobbles
Both played out comfortable service games at the start and this time Sharapova was the first to be threatened as momentum was tilting. The Russian steadied the ship though to hold for 2-2 and it was immediately Mladenovic’s turn to struggle. Sharapova, however, could not convert her chances as the Frenchwoman’s serve came to her aid and she survived to edge 3-2 ahead.
The match was opening up again as Mladenovic then conjured up opportunities of her own with some solid work to set up triple break points. Sharapova showed her steel and saved all three but an error gave the Frenchwoman another look. The Russian sent her shot long, allowing Mladenovic to break first in the set for a 4-2 lead. It was almost cat and mouse as Sharapova then hit back with some great play to earn triple break points of her own. And the Frenchwoman responded, in the same way, rescuing all three points before holding to extend her lead for 5-2.
The former champion then held to force Mladenovic to serve for the win. Pressure though caught up to her and Sharapova another one of her huge return winners to get a couple of break-back points. The Frenchwoman caved in and Sharapova closed the gap to 4-5. Serving to level the set, Sharapova did not have it easy and Mladenovic produced a winner at the net, putting her doubles skills to work to carve out match point. The Frenchwoman then sent a drop shot that Sharapova got to but Mladenovic was quick to follow up. The Russian could not get to the shot and Mladenovic roared with triumph, clinching her first victory over the former champion to advance to the finals.