Headlines will read, ‘Sharapova Loses,’ but the fact is: Lucie Safarova won.
The Czech lefty won big, entering her first-ever quarterfinal at Roland Garros with a 7-6(3), 6-4 victory over the defending champion and No. 2 seed, Maria Sharapova.
“She was the much more aggressive player,” Sharapova said after the match, reported by the WTA. “She took the time away from me, created her angles and I didn’t. That was the difference today, in my opinion.”
Safarova had not scored a win over Sharapova in five years, but today, the stars aligned for the No. 13 seed. Her aggression was in gear. She maintained consistently deep ground strokes, which pinned Sharapova to the baseline and effectively handcuffed her own aggression, an asset the Russian relies upon.
“I knew Maria is an amazing player and I needed to play aggressively and come forward for the points,” Safarova said on court immediately following the match. “I’m so happy. It’s amazing. It was a great match today and the crowds were so good.”
The last player to successfully defend her title in Paris was Justine Henin, from 2005-2007. Sharapova, though, has come close. This is the first time in five years she hasn’t advanced to the semifinals or better. In addition to her title from last year, she won in 2012.
The two women turned pro within a year of each other and are noted for cracking matches. Their three prior encounters, two of which were played on red clay in Stuttgart, went three sets. The 2014 match in the German city was three tiebreak sets, and only at the 2010 Madrid tournament did Safarova do away with Sharapova in a straight-forward win, 6-4, 6-3.
Although this quarterfinal will be Safarova’s first in Paris, she advanced to this same stage at the Australian Open in 2007. Additionally, she lost to Petra Kvitova in the semifinals of Wimbledon last year. Safarova has not dropped a set coming into the quarterfinals. Her serve percentages are stellar, as well. She’s won over 70 percent of points off first serves. In the second round, that comparative stat was at a stunning 82 percent.
Although Safarova has never won a major in singles, she has in doubles — the 2015 Australian Open alongside American Bethanie Mattek-Sands. They entered unseeded and never having played doubles together. Early in the tournament, they benefited from the loss of the No. 1 seeded team, Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci. When Julia Goerges and Anna-Lena Gronefeld, seeded No. 16, retired in the semifinals, Mattek-Sands and Safarova giddily reached the final where they won in straight sets.
The two have paired up in Paris, as well, but are no longer unseeded. This fortnight, it’s lucky No. 7 for the Czech-American pair. Because of the rain delay in Sunday’s schedule, Safarova was back on court with Mattek-Sands later Monday and they defeated Belinda Bencic and Katerina Siniakova, 6-4, 6-3.
Their quarterfinal opponents are the No. 1 seeded team of Martina Hingis and Sania Mirza, the hottest women’s doubles team on the planet. They hooked up in March and have barely had time to breathe; their 21-3 match record has given them titles at Indian Wells, Miami and Charleston. Hingis has won nine Grand Slam doubles titles whereas Mirza seeks her first in women’s doubles. She is also the first woman from India to reach the No. 1 ranking in either singles or doubles.
Next up for Safarova in singles is Garbine Muguruza, seeded No. 21. She defeated Flavia Pennetta today, 6-4, 6-3, despite falling behind a break in both sets. This is the Spaniard’s second straight quarterfinal at Roland Garros, where she is remembered for her second-round upset of Serena Williams in 2014.
“I have never played against her [Safarova],” Muguruza said in press, reported by the WTA. “I was in the locker room just looking [at] the last few points. She’s lefty and that gives her a lot of help.”
Muguruza might get some help of her own, of a different sort. The No. 21 seed later mentioned she ran into Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, a three-time French Open champion.
“The other day we were talking in the locker room,” Muguruza said. “She was giving me some advice. You have to listen to a champion like Arantxa. I was like, yes, tell me everything. She was explaining to me, saying that you have to control your life outside the tennis. Just like typical advice from a mother.”
The top-seeded quarterfinalist is Ana Ivanovic, No. 7, on that side of the draw. She won her only Grand Slam title at Roland Garros in 2008, and this year is her first quarterfinal in Paris since. She plays Elina Svitolina, No.19, who is also into her first French quarterfinal.
On the top half of the draw, Serena Williams, No. 1, tenaciously held on in another three-set battle — this time with American Sloane Stephens, 1-6, 7-5, 6-3. It was Williams’ third three-setter in four rounds.
After No. 4 seed Petra Kvitova was bundled out of the tournament by Timea Bacsinszky, 2-6, 6-0, 6-3, the only Top 10 player remaining outside of Williams is Ivanovic. It seems as if this French Open has unlocked the gate for many who have benefited from losses from those we expected to be around the second week.
Another way to put it, we have new winners.