By Ros Satar, in Stuttgart
- Maria Sharapova [WC] def Roberta Vinci 7-5 6-3
- Faces compatriot Ekaterina Makarova next
STUTTGART, GERMANY – Maria Sharapova made her come-back on the tour with a win against Roberta Vinci but as was expected, there were some hard questions to come.
Having arrived early with very little fanfare, there was no diva-like late arrivals on court for practice from Maria Sharapova. Her movement looked sharp, her strokes hit clean, slides, volleys – it all looked good… in practice. The honest truth is while the applause was warm, the crowd looked to be very much in the corner of the underdog. Prior to today, the most games the wily Italian Roberta Vinci had ever taken off Sharapova in any given set was two.
So imagine the buzz beginning to develop around the arena as Roberta equalled that total in just the first two games, breaking an at times an over-eager Sharapova who understandably might have let fly with the groundies in the early exchanges. She showed though that she had not lost any of her tenacity, forcing Vinci to save a wave of four break points before finally breaking the Italian for the fifth time of asking.
A sixth chance came and went for the Russian to try and take the lead back, as Vinci seemed to get more and more uncertain about her tactics. A loose game handed Sharapova the break she needed, although she had to earn the first set on her second set point.
With her trademark intensity, she wasted no time in breaking the Italian, who was enjoying raucous support from the crowd from the start. That is not to say that Sharapova did not have her fans, and the applause greeting her as she walked in was certainly warm, yet not effusive.
Her early break of Vinci’s serve at the start of the second set was an advantage she would bot relinquish, and although Vinci had her chances (three to be precise in the second game of the second set) she could not convert on any of them.
Perhaps to be broken to love was a cruel way for the match to be ended, but Vinci certainly earned the love of the crowd tonight in her best performance against her adversary. The nature of the clay proved to be more problematic for Vinci, who revealed in her pre-tournament press conference that she was going to get to practice on the Centre Court for the first time on Tuesday.
She said: “I play probably better than the other time when I played against her long time ago. Of course I’m sad that I lost. For me to play against her is tough. She play flat, she play so strong and she always play aggressive. But especially on that court it’s tough to move, for me sometimes I had some difficult movements.”
What a difference 15 months makes
Sharapova’s press conference was predictably a spectacle more akin to a Grand Slam champion’s trophy final press conference – not a first round in a Premier event with a draw of 32 with four byes. What she missed the most was the feeling of having to solve the conundrum of a tennis match, as she described:
“I love being in situations where I had to figure out a way of how to get through it and how to win. That’s one of the things that the sport teaches you from a young age. It puts you in certain positions where you have to adjust and you have to keep your focus and you have to keep playing the same way. You have to know what you do right to get there. Or if you’re down you have to turn it around as quickly as possible. It’s a jigsaw puzzle and I miss that feeling.”
Equally predictably though there were a few answers that skirted round the issues that have been prevalent over the last 15 months. For example, when asked if the comments regarding the fairness or otherwise of the granting of wildcards, the answer felt prepared, as she explained:
“I was very thankful to Markus for giving me the opportunity to play in the tournament It’s a tournament that I’ve been successful for many years and I’m entering a tournament which is probably one of the toughest women’s events.
“It’s a small draw, it’s the toughest competitors playing around the world, many of the top 10 are competing and I’m putting myself in the position to face against the toughest in the world.”
We are none the wiser as to whether, after ten years of a regimen of a drug prescribed by a family doctor to combat a family history of diabetes and potential heart conditions, had she found a valid replacement? Well that is now between Sharapova, the WTA and an orthopaedic doctor she is now working with.
Sharapova maintains the approach that this is her job. It is her job to practice, play matches, grab her gear and get out of the locker room. In that respect nothing much has changed in 15 months.
Sharapova will face compatriot Ekaterina Makarova in the second round, scheduled on Centre Court at 3pm (2pm BST).
All Photos Credit: Jimmie48 Tennis Photography
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