After being forced to withdraw from the entire grass court season, Maria Sharapova made a winning return from injury Monday evening at the Bank of the West Classic, winning her first match in nearly two-and-a-half months over American Jennifer Brady, 6-1, 4-6, 6-0, to book her place in round two.
Sharapova Survives Series of Early Tests to Take Opener
In the pair’s first-ever meeting, it was clear that both women were looking to get on the front foot early on, and it was Sharapova who, despite her prolonged absence from the tour, more often than not succeeded in forcing the issue from her younger American counterpart. In fact, it was a scorching forehand return winner down the line on the first point from the Russian that really set the tone for a commanding opening set.
With the help of that return and a few loose errors from Brady, Sharapova was able to assert her authority right from the off, despite needing four break points to get the elusive break in the opening game. From there, she managed to dig her way out of an early hole on serve, showing encouraging signs in the one area of her game where she has been most vulnerable throughout her career, to consolidate her early advantage. From there, the Russian would dig her way out of a 40-0 hole with some scorching returns, particularly off the backhand, to ultimately secure the double break, much to the dismay of Brady.
Despite showing some signs of life in the following game by reclaiming one of the breaks she surrendered, the woes on serve continued for Brady as she was simply unable to fight off the charge of Sharapova, whose returns were robbing her of precious time to work her way into the points. As a result, it was the 2010 runner-up who would break for a third time before coming out on top in a grueling sixth game, saving a trio of break points en route to finally consolidating her lead. Once there, the former world number one wasted no time in drawing the curtain on the opening set, securing it at love off a wild double fault from Brady, 6-1.
Brilliant Brady Forces a Decider
After a brief meeting with her coach between sets, Brady appeared to shift into a new gear with a renewed mentality as she took advantage of a couple shaky service games from Sharapova to jump out to a 3-0 lead with the double break. However, the American was unable to maintain this advantage as a short sit-down with her coach Sven Groeneveld was just what Sharapova needed to claw her way back into the set and draw level at three-games-apiece.
But once there, the errors seemed to fly back into Sharapova’s game as she was unable to deal with the surges of pace that were coming straight at her from the American, particularly off the return. As a result, it was Brady who was able to secure her fourth break of the match and with it, move one step closer to forcing a decider off an untimely double fault from Sharapova.
In the end, that break would prove decisive as the 22-year-old would consolidate the break with minimal fuss before later serving out the set in rather impressive fashion, winning it 6-4 to force a one-set shootout.
Sharapova Secures Her Place in Round Two With Emphatic Final Set
After taking a toilet break in an attempt to settle herself ahead of the decider, Sharapova seemed to be anything but settled as she hit a pair of double faults en route to giving Brady a golden opportunity to earn yet another break. Interestingly, it was a 76 mph kicker out wide on break point that seemed to do the damage for Sharapova, catching Brady off guard and setting her up for the easy putaway, before she managed to secure the vital hold.
In what would later turn out to be a crucial second and third game of the decider, both women fought brilliantly but it was Sharapova who was able to show some of her vintage form to secure the early break before saving a pair of break points in the third game to consolidate the early break. With the momentum now firmly in her favour, Sharapova began to show some of the form that saw her dominate much of the opening set as she reeled off the last three games, despite some strong hitting from Brady, to book her place in round two with yet another backhand return winner.
“I feel like I just want to hug everyone and say thank you,” the former world number one told announcer Andrew Krasny during her on-court interview. “It’s my first match in the States in a really long time, and it’s the closest thing to home for me. The welcome has been incredible and finally playing so close to home was really special.”
Next Up for Sharapova: Lesia Tsurenko
Awaiting the 2010 runner-up is dangerous Ukrainian and seventh seed Lesia Tsurenko, who overcame an early test to see off Spaniard Lara Arruabarrena in straight sets earlier in the day. This will be the pair’s first meeting and will be a good test at that for both women as Sharapova looks to rebuild her ranking and Tsurenko looks to begin this year’s U.S. Open Series on a high note.