Fresh on the heels of Serena Williams being unceremoniously dumped from the tournament, unorthodox Tsvetana Pironkova had her own plans of wreaking havoc on the women’s draw when she raced out of the blocks against 2012 champion, Maria Sharapova, late on Wednesday afternoon.
The 42nd-ranked Bulgarian had never beaten the Russian in four previous attempts, but started in a hurry, breaking immediately on her least-preferred surface, before consolidating the advantage to have the seventh seed trailing 4-2. As a qualifier, Pironkova claimed her first title at the Premier-level event in Sydney to begin the year and is better known for her feats on the faster Wimbledon surface, where she has twice beaten Venus Williams en route to quarter-final and semi-final appearances.
In the cold, drizzly conditions though, Sharapova soon found her range, breaking to level at 4-4 before luck fell her way. She sealed the set with a break of serve when her backhand trickled over the net out of reach of the fleet-footed Pironkova.
"I started off quite cold, wasn't moving my feet enough. And, yeah, just not really having good rhythm. Once I got the break back, I started feeling a bit more aggressive and much better about my game, and I was able to hold that until the end of the match," Sharapova said.
Grabbing at her left hip throughout the latter stages of the opening set, the Bulgarian had a lengthy injury treatment at the end of the set and managed to stick with the former world No.1 on serve until trailing 3-2. Further treatment on her troublesome hip did not bode well and from there she would not win another game; the Russian booking her place in the third round on the back of 22 winners, double what her opponent could produce. Sharapova would not be drawn on her chances now that her quarter had been thrown open after top seed Serena Williams bowed out. She knows all too well not to get too far ahead of herself. It is, after all, only the second round.
"I think you always have to follow your path and always concentrate on your work and who's ahead of you and not get worried about what's going on. Obviously when you go on court you're aware of a lot of the upsets, not just in the women but in the men, as well. So it's great to get a win in that type of atmosphere," she said.
Dealing with the weight of expectation that becomes part and parcel of winning Grand Slam titles, Sharapova attributed an ability to put losses in perspective and the necessary grounding from a good family background as the key factors for coping.
"I have been very lucky, because I feel like I have very realistic parents that have been very realistic since the beginning of my career, not just since I won Wimbledon but since we came to the United States as a very young girl. We never had fear to go back and have a very normal life. It was OK. It wasn't going to be a tragedy," Sharapova said. "Also in moments in big success, yes you achieve something big because you worked so hard for it and such a huge moment for you and your family, but you go home and everyone is still making the coffee at your local shop, everyone is still going about their life. It's a huge victory, but the world still moves on and you wake up in the morning and you have to go and do your job just like everybody else."
With Sharapova restoring some order to the women's seeds, it's back to concentrating on the job at hand.
She has another path to forge through the Roland Garros draw.