Tahlequah Daily Press

Sports

June 4, 2014

Sharapova, Djokovic reach French Open semifinals

PARIS — This is what Maria Sharapova does. She digs herself a big hole in a match, then figures a way out, no matter what it takes.

She hits shots left-handed. Takes her time between points. Pumps her fists and screams “Come on!” after her opponent’s mistakes. And wins.

Did it in the fourth round at the French Open, turning things around by winning the last nine games. Did it Tuesday, too, reeling off nine of the last 10 games to put together a 1-6, 7-5, 6-1 victory over 35th-ranked Garbine Muguruza of Spain that put 2012 champion Sharapova in the semifinals at Roland Garros for the fourth consecutive year.

“When you just don’t feel like anything is going your way, you want to try to find a little door to get into,” Sharapova said. “Once you start feeling, you know, like you got your foot in the door, then it’s a little bit easier.”

After beating one 20-year-old, Sharapova now faces another, 18th-seeded Eugenie Bouchard of Canada, who earned a semifinal spot for the second straight Grand Slam tournament.

Like Sharapova, Bouchard was not fazed by falling behind in the quarterfinals. Bouchard trailed 5-2 in the first set, and 4-1 in the third, but beat No. 14 Carla Suarez Navarro of Spain 7-6 (4), 2-6, 7-5.

“I’m just proud,” Bouchard said, “of the way I stayed in there.”

Tuesday’s men’s quarterfinals offered far less intrigue. No. 2 Novak Djokovic kept up his bid to complete a career Grand Slam by muting Milos Raonic’s dangerous serve and defeating the eighth-seeded Canadian 7-5, 7-6 (5), 6-4. Djokovic’s next opponent is No. 18 Ernests Gulbis of Latvia, who followed his victory over Roger Federer with a 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 win over No. 6 Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic.

Djokovic, 27, and Gulbis, 25, go way back, having overlapped in their early teens at a German tennis academy. Their paths quickly diverged, with Djokovic focusing on tennis and thriving, to the tune of six major titles. Gulbis admits he enjoyed the nightlife too much for his game’s good.

Only recently did Gulbis realize he needed to take his job more seriously.

“It’s really important, for my happiness, just to be successful on the tennis court,” Gulbis said. “Forget about the money. Forget about fame. It’s just about my inner comfort. That’s it.”

Djokovic will be playing in his 22nd career Grand Slam semifinal; Gulbis in his first.

Similarly, Sharapova is headed to her 18th, Bouchard her second. Bouchard is 7 years younger, and tracked Sharapova’s career from afar.

“First I noticed, like, her cute dresses and things like that when I was young,” said Bouchard, who recalled being a spectator at a tournament in Florida as a youngster and posing for a photo with Sharapova.

“She, of course, is very strong mentally. It is one of her strengths, I think,” Bouchard said. “I’m just looking forward to the challenge.”

For 18 miserable minutes against Muguruza, Sharapova did nothing right. She lost 15 of the first 20 points and fell behind 4-0.

“I thought, ‘I’m going to win,’” said Muguruza, who was one game away at 5-4 in the second.

Then, serving at 5-all, Muguruza went ahead 30-love.

“Suddenly, I had the impression that it was so easy,” Muguruza said. “Maybe I relaxed a little.”

She double-faulted, opening the door. Sharapova barged through, hitting a pair of backhand winners, then forcing Muguruza’s forehand error, to get the break.

“I’m sure she feels like she has a good chance of getting that game in the bag,” Sharapova said, “and all of a sudden, I’m serving for the set.”

Brushing off a warning from the chair umpire for taking too much time between points, Sharapova broke to go ahead 2-1 in the third, her first lead. In the next game, Sharapova saved five break points to hold for 3-1. And that was that.

Little adjustments, here and there, made the difference. Sharapova took more chances on returns, attacking Muguruza’s second serves. Sharapova tried to extend points — even shifting her racket to her off hand for a couple of lefty strokes — to force Muguruza to hit extra shots. One telling final-set stat: Muguruza made 26 unforced errors, Sharapova five.

“I didn’t do much in the first set to hurt her. She was doing many things well. I also knew that the match wasn’t over,” Sharapova said. “I still had a fair bit of time to change things around.”

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