Sharapova so near and yet so far
Some players might be pleased to play Serena Williams close in a Grand Slam final, but that would not be world No. 2 Maria Sharapova. Despite playing well in patches in her 6-4, 6-4 defeat in Paris to the American, Maria was not smiling after the defeat.
Even though Sharapova suffered her 13th straight loss to now 16-time Grand Slam champion, she clearly was in the match and she said as much afterwards.
“You lost and you can be really down about it,” Sharapova said. “I'm a competitor and I'm a fighter and I don't train to lose. Nobody does. So of course I'm disappointed about that. But that's the feeling that ultimately will make you work harder and make you think a little bit. (It) gives you more determination. I hope that that's what I take away from the match. Of course the initial feelings after the match are of disappointment – that you lost the match no matter how (it) went. I will take a few little positives from this match.”
Sharapova did just about everything as well as Williams did except serve and perhaps return, but as Williams’ coach Patrick Mouratoglou said, those are two critical elements of his protégée’s attack as she takes control of the points away from her opponent.
Sharapova had two game points to go up 3-0 in the first set but could not take them, and went stroke for stroke with Williams in the second set but could not overcome an early break. She felt like the first set should have been hers, but a couple of key errors off the ground proved to be her undoing.
“Well, 2-0, 40-15,” she said of the first set. “4-all, losing my serve right away in that game, easy passing shot, first point. I know I'm nitpicking here, but these are moments against her that I feel that I should be able to take, because then she has no pressure going in and serving and being up a break at 5‑4, and serving harder than David Ferrer when he gets to the final of Roland Garros.”
Sharapova made sure to let Williams know she meant business at the start of the contest, fist-pumping and yelling ‘C’mon!’ after nearly every winner, forced error or even unforced error. After Williams broke back to 2-1, she raised her fist too and screamed out a loud 'C'mon' in Sharapova's direction.
The Russian said she wasn't trying to tell Williams that she meant business, but she knew she needed to start quickly.
“I don't know if she really cares about what's going on on the other side,” Sharapova said. “I think in the last few matches (I’ve) always been slow starting, so I definitely wanted to give myself a bit more energy than maybe I have done previously.”
Sharapova did a terrific job off the ground, hustling down balls, slightly overmatching Williams on the forehand side and staying with her on the backhand, but she couldn’t touch Williams’ service in the second set. The deeper the set went, the better Williams served and she was untouchable in her last three service games, kissing the T time after time in both service boxes. She held at love to win the match courtesy of three aces, including on match point, and won 77 percent of her first service points compared with only 48 percent for Sharapova.
“Obviously it's a little bit (a question) of confidence but we know she's going to be able to hit a big serve,” Sharapova said. “If I was built like Serena I hope I'd be able to hit a big serve like that, too.”
While any player would like to have Williams’ blowtorch serves, Sharapova said that since that is never going to happen for her, she’d rather not wish for it. She has her strengths, as does Williams. Hers are clearly not in Williams’ category now, but she wasn’t blown out and perhaps in 2014 when the now 26-year-old returns to Paris, she will have found the key to unlock her rival’s game.
“I think getting to the Roland Garros final is not too shabby, so I'd say that's a positive,” Sharapova said. “Coming back as a defending champion is never easy, so I'm happy that I was able to produce good tennis within these last two weeks and come to that stage.”