Headstrong Halep turns tables on Kerber
Spaniard shows why she is called Muguruthless after crushing Sharapova for the loss of just three games.
It was the quarter-final clash of the titans, the self-proclaimed “warrior” against the champion who describes her life story as “unstoppable”, and it was Garbine Muguruza who lived up to her 'Muguruthless' nickname as she took just 70 minutes to rout two time Roland-Garros champion Maria Sharapova 6-2 6-1 on Court Philippe-Chatrier.
Magisterial, authoritative, unrelenting, the Spaniard was in superlative form to secure a place in her fourth Grand Slam semi-final against world No.1 Simona Halep.
The No.3 seed took the initiative on every point, hitting the ball early to prevent Sharapova settling into a rhythm, punishing her second serve, taking her wide on the forehand. In a black dress and yellow and black shoes, Muguruza unleashed groundstrokes, serves and returns with a ferocious wasp-like sting.
It was 29 minutes before the Russian got a game on the board and she failed to earn a single break point against her opponent in the first set. Starting 0-15 down on every single service game in the second set was indication that Sharapova was just never going to get a look-in.
“Being aggressive is part of my game and when you're facing somebody who also has an aggressive style of game, I think it's about who takes the command, who takes the first opportunity,” Muguruza said afterwards. “I was focusing on winning every point, every game.”
How the mighty are fallen. This was an encounter in which the 2016 champion dominated the champion of 2012 and 2014. It seemed incredible that these two elegant power players had only contested three previous matches, and that the record stood at 3-0 to the Russian. Muguruza is one of the very few players who can match the flinty, commanding air of self-possession that Sharapova brings on to court. In this, their first encounter for four years, it was a sure sign of the evolution in the women's game that the 24-year-old Spaniard - the reigning Wimbledon champion who beat Serena Williams to lift the Coupe Suzanne-Lenglen in 2016 - was in a position to assert her superior, high-risk aggressive game over the 31-year-old Russian.
“The last time we played was a very long time ago, and a lot of things have happened in between that. So I felt today like I was a more developed player. And, you know, very motivated out there ... it's a Grand Slam quarterfinals,” Muguruza said. “I knew it was going to be an intense match, because I hadn't played her for a long time. I knew she was a difficult player. I wasn't thinking so much about the result, but I just was thinking about not dropping my level, not giving her a single point, and I guess that helped my performance.”
The most significant difference between the pair was the serve. Muguruza’s accuracy in placing the ball was as sharp as its speed whereas Sharapova stuttered on her first serve, and won only a dismal 19 per cent of points on her second.
Who would bet against Muguruza now going all the way to the final here? She has not dropped a set en route to the semi-finals. She has a genuine affinity for clay, a surface she calls her “territory”, and Roland-Garros is her most consistent Slam. This is the fifth consecutive year in six appearances that she has made the second week, and she professes to love the intensity of competition, especially on Court Philippe-Chatrier.
“When I go out there. I love playing tennis. It's one of my favourite courts. The crowd, the big stage," she said. "Deep inside it's a great moment, even though I’m not smiling out there.”
As for the Halep match-up, she’s looking forward to it. “She's right now probably the best player. Well, she's No. 1. So I'm excited to play a good semifinals, and it's good that it's tomorrow.”