WTA Shenzhen: Maria Sharapova survives tricky test in three thrilling sets

Recovering from 4-6, 1-2* down, Maria Sharapova prevailed in a stern test against Alison Riske in the second round of the Shenzhen Open, progressing to the quarterfinals.

WTA Shenzhen: Maria Sharapova survives tricky test in three thrilling sets
Maria Sharapova celebrates winning the match, displaying her tireless fighting spirit | Photo: Zhong Zhi / Getty Images AsiaPac
Maria Sharapova
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Alison Riske

In an all-unseeded battle in the second round of the 2018 Shenzhen Open, a thriller was played out after the former world number one Maria Sharapova got through a tough test against two-time defending finalist Alison Riske, triumphing 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 after a tough two-hours and 22-minutes.

Looking rhythm-less on the return throughout the first half of the match, Sharapova slowly got into the match before successfully fending off the tough and spirited challenge of Riske, recovering from a set and a break down to complete the comeback, sealing her spot in the quarterfinals where she will face Zarina Diyas.

Maria Sharapova applauds the crowd after beating Alison Riske in three tough sets | Photo: Zhong Zhi / Getty Images AsiaPac
Maria Sharapova applauds the crowd after beating Alison Riske in three tough sets | Photo: Zhong Zhi / Getty Images AsiaPac

Riske puts up flawless performance, takes the first set

It was the perfect start to the match for Riske, who was firing on all cylinders and started to even outhit Sharapova, the expected aggressor. Instead, the American took the initiative, grabbing the break in the opening game as the former world number one failed to consistently find her first serves. Riske was playing with ultra-confidence, serving with precision and accuracy as Sharapova had troubles on the return.

Though Sharapova finally got onto the scoreboard with a spirited service hold before earning break points on two different occasions, Riske remained composed mentally and sent in several good serves to hold onto her lead. Within a blink of an eye, Sharapova went 0/3 on break points before Riske comfortably served out the opening set 6-4 after 44 minutes.

Alison Riske in action during her match against Sharapova, where she failed to convert her opportunities | Photo: Zhong Zhi / Getty Images AsiaPac
Alison Riske in action during her match against Sharapova, where she failed to convert her opportunities | Photo: Zhong Zhi / Getty Images AsiaPac

Sharapova fights back from the brink

Determined to produce a comeback, Sharapova came from 15-30 game to claim the first hold, before Riske started to dominate play once more. Some solid defense from the world number 70 saw her turn the tables, redirecting the pace and continuously forcing Sharapova to hit an extra shot, resulting in an error on multiple occasions.

Riske took eight of the next 10 points, leading by a set and a break while looking poised for the confidence-boosting victory over the five-time Grand Slam champion. Sharapova’s break point debacle continued in the second set, having missed three more chances before consecutive double-faults finally sealed the deal for her.

Maria Sharapova was struggling throughout the encounter, but did well to come through eventually | Photo: Zhong Zhi / Getty Images AsiaPac
Maria Sharapova was struggling throughout the encounter, but did well to come through eventually | Photo: Zhong Zhi / Getty Images AsiaPac

In what was the pivotal moment of the match which totally changed the outcome, Sharapova fended off three break points in a nervy game, firing powerful second-serves in the process. A fantastic second-serve ace closed out the game for the Russian, getting the fans all hyped up. Riske lost the rhythm on her serve and completely failed to find her groove as Sharapova rode on her momentum, rattling off the final three games to level the match.

Sharapova prevails in three tough sets

After coming out of nowhere to take the second set, the decider looked to be a one-way traffic after Sharapova earned four break points in the opening game. The love-hate relationship between the Russian and those crucial points continued, with Riske playing some world-class aggressive tennis at the critical moments which saved her from the brink. Getting the confidence, Riske looked like she was the favorite to triumph with Sharapova being visibly frustrated with herself.

Maria Sharapova's fighting spirit saw her battle back from a set and a break down to triumph | Photo: Zhong Zhi / Getty Images AsiaPac
Maria Sharapova's fighting spirit saw her battle back from a set and a break down to triumph | Photo: Zhong Zhi / Getty Images AsiaPac

Nonetheless, a series of service breaks saw Sharapova having the last laugh, coming through the tough games despite the pressure all weighing on her shoulders. It was a break galore, and Riske earned the golden opportunity to break back in the sixth game. Amidst the tension in the air, Sharapova sent down a powerful second serve before coming up with her goods — a glorious backhand down-the-line winner. From there, nothing was working for the American. Serving two aces — one on match point, Sharapova comfortably served out the match to love, sealing the impressive comeback victory after a marathon 142 minutes.