One of the most interesting second-round matches at the 2017 China Open will see the five-time Grand Slam champion Maria Sharapova, who received a wildcard into the main draw, go up against compatriot and former top-10 player Ekaterina Makarova.
This will be their eighth career meeting with the winner of this encounter facing either the dangerous Magdalena Rybarikova or the world number two Simona Halep in the third round of the competition.
Sharapova’s recent results
Maria Sharapova had some impressive results recently, reaching the fourth round of the US Open as a wildcard. Returning from all kinds of injury problems, Sharapova was able to overcome all the odds and defeat world number two Simona Halep in a blockbuster opening round match at Flushing Meadows and was listed as one of the best matches throughout the tournament.
Sharapova followed it up with impressive wins over Timea Babos and Sofia Kenin to reach the second week of a Grand Slam for the first time since the 2016 Australian Open. However, her dream run came to a sudden halt with 16th seed and eventual quarterfinalist Anastasija Sevastova rising to the occasion and defeated the Russian in three sets.
The former world number one’s first tournament in Asia since the 2015 WTA Finals was here in Beijing, where she received a wildcard into the main draw. Sharapova, coincidentally, was drawn to face Sevastova once more and had the golden opportunity to exact revenge. In the toughest way possible, the Russian saved a match point to beat the Latvian in a three hour and five minutes thriller to reach the second round.
Makarova’s recent results
Ekaterina Makarova had an incredible US Open Series, reentering the top-40 of the rankings after dropping to the 58th position back in July. A title in Washington saw the Russian clinch the momentum before claiming some impressive victories over Peng Shuai and Johanna Konta in Toronto, looking in red-hot form. Makarova followed it up with tough wins over Angelique Kerber and Barbora Strycova, before sealing her ninth top-10 win of the year against Caroline Wozniacki at the US Open.
Her first tournament for the Asian Swing this year was at the Wuhan Open, where she was given a relatively tough draw. Nonetheless, she went against the odds and defeated 16th seed Anastasija Sevastova in the opening round, triumphing in straight sets. Owning the golden opportunity to mount a deep run, Makarova was unable to capitalize on her opportunities as she fell to eventual champion Caroline Garcia in the quarterfinals, failing to take her chances. Makarova entered the second round of the China Open with a one-sided victory over Jennifer Brady where she did not give her opponents any chances at all, prevailing under an hour of play.
Head to Head
Sharapova leads their head-to-head by a whopping 7-0 record. Makarova has only managed to win one set against the former world number one throughout her career, coming in their first-ever meeting back at the 2011 Mutua Madrid Open. They have met four times on hard courts, with Sharapova triumphing on all four occasions in straight sets, including three Australian Open quarterfinal and semifinal encounters. Their last match-up came at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix, where the five-time Grand Slam champion made her return to professional tennis from her suspension.
Sharapova definitely has the more weapons amongst the two but Makarova has to start utilizing her lefty advantage against her compatriot having not done so effectively in their previous meetings.
Although being the higher-ranked player, Makarova will feel as if she is the underdog in this encounter judging by their head-to-head record. The Russian would have to ensure that she is firing on all cylinders to claim the win against her nemesis, with her solid groundstrokes having to do its job.
To clinch her eighth consecutive win over the world number 35, Sharapova definitely needs to put in a consistent and solid performance, and attempt to keep the unforced error count as low as possible. Her forehands looked incredible against Sevastova in the opening round, and if she could maintain the high level of play in this match-up, the win should not be much of a problem.
Sharapova should aim for a higher first-serve percentage, which would win her more free points as she produced 11 aces in her first-round win two days back. Her second serves could be awful at times, having also hit 10 double-faults in the same match, showing how risky her big second deliveries are, which could go as fast at 95 mph.
However, Makarova could also add some variety to her play, mixing in slices and drop shots during the baseline rallies to catch Sharapova off-guard. Being a current top-10 player in doubles and the reigning WTA Finals champion, the former top-10 player in singles should also opt for more net play and put her great hands at the net to use.
The head-to-head surely come into this encounter as a huge deciding factor, with Makarova often facing a “mental block” when facing the formidable Sharapova. Already meeting in Stuttgart this year, the former world number one looks to claim an eighth consecutive win over her counterpart, and she should not face many problems if she were to play some consistent tennis.
Match Prediction: [WC] Maria Sharapova d. Ekaterina Makarova in straight sets