A new Muguruza awaits Sharapova

Four years after Sharapova beat her en route to a second Roland-Garros title, Garbi is a very different prospect.

Garbiñe Muguruza©Nicolas Gouhier / FFT
 - Michael Beattie

There’s no denying it: seeing two players reach a Grand Slam quarter-final having won two fourth-round games combined is… well, odd.

But that is where we are. Garbine Muguruza, who advanced after Lesia Tsurenko was forced to retire after a couple of games of their Court 1 showdown with a leg injury, will face Maria Sharapova, handed her spot by the sudden withdrawal of Serena Williams on Monday.

With three Roland-Garros titles between them, a showdown between the Spaniard and Russian has the box-office appeal befitting the setting and the stage. But neither player would have enjoyed advancing in such circumstances – particularly Muguruza, who knows Tsurenko’s pain only too well.

“I think it happened in the second game,” Muguruza said. “I saw her hitting a shot and that didn't look very well, and so from that moment, I think she didn't feel good. So is not beautiful.

“I know how it feels – I had a few retirements at the beginning of the year. Is very tough, especially here, for sure, fourth round of the French Open.”

Four years have passed since the second of the duo’s three meetings, all won by Sharapova (the third was later that same year). It was the tournament that launched Muguruza into the public consciousness, having handed Serena Williams her heaviest Grand Slam defeat in the second round before running into the Russian in the quarters.

Back then, she fell in three sets as Sharapova surged to her second Roland-Garros title, and most recent major triumph. In the intervening years it is the Spaniard who has collected Grand Slam crowns both on the clay of Paris and, last year, the lawns of Wimbledon. She, too, has held the world No.1 ranking, and as the seedings suggest, there are many who make Muguruza their favourite heading into the match.

Many, but not Muguruza.

“Favorite? Not really,” she insisted. “Because I think it's a match that is going to be very interesting. The quarter-finals are going to be very good. I saw her match against [Karolina] Pliskova the other day, and she played extraordinarily well.

"She's played very good matches. I haven't played against her for a while. She's in quarter-finals and I'm really looking forward to playing her.”

Sharapova’s first appearance at Roland-Garros since 2015 has been impressive. The 31-year-old had dropped just one set en route to the last 16, and had served notice of her intent with that 6-2 6-1 demolition of No.6 seed Pliskova – the same stage that the Spaniard produced one of the performances of the first week, dismissing Samantha Stosur 6-0 6-2, a third successive straight-sets win.

“She's very solid and aggressive,” Muguruza said when asked to size up the five-time Grand Slam champion’s game. “I'm going to try and play my best tennis, and I think that we both have the same type of aggressive game. So what I have to do is be on top of things and start first.”

For two players so prominent at the sharp end of the women’s game, it seems somewhat of an anomaly that Muguruza and Sharapova have not met since that 2014 season. What can be read into Sharapova’s trio of victories is hard to say – both for the Russian and her 24-year-old opponent.

“It's true that this was a long time ago and a lot of things have changed,” Muguruza said. “What I will do when I walk on the court, I'll have the same spirit but with different options to win. Yeah – things have changed a lot.”