Mladenovic stands in the way of Sharapova and the French Open qualies draw

By Ros Satar

  • Maria Sharapova [WC] def. Anett Kontaveit [Q] 6-3 6-4
  • Kristina Mladenovic def. Carla Suárez Navarro 6-3 6-2
STUTTGART, GERMANY – Kristina Mladenovic could be the hurdle between Maria Sharapova and an automatic place in the French Open qualifying draw based on her results this week

 

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Maria Sharapova [WC] def. Anett Kontaveit [Q] 6-3 6-4

For the briefest of moments it looked as though Anna Kontaveit could be the joker in the pack in an unusual week for the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix. As she came out to start, there was no sign of being intimated by a three-time champion who has been the centre of attention all week, despite the media centre now catering for more managing numbers.

Anett Kontaveit – 2017 WTA Porsche Tennis Grand Prix (c) Jimmie48 Tennis Photography

While we would not be so bold to suggest that Maria Sharapova had met her match, there had to be a swift kick up of level to tackle a player who came in fresh off a final, and won through qualifying to earn this spot. Once that break was in the bag, well the Sharapova stranglehold went up into another gear. A love hold for the Russian put her firmly in the driving seat following a break, with a second one for good measure to seal the first set.

With Sharapova breaking early for a 3-1 lead, you could have been forgiven for thinking that Kontaveit might just fade away – it’s been a busy run in to this quarter-final for the Estonian but there was still fight left in her yet. She broke straight back, earning a swift and similar response from Sharapova to reclaim the advantage. Still Kontaveit kept coming breaking Sharapova as she served for the match for the first time.

However, the final word belonged to Sharapova, breaking to take the match, to advance into the semi-finals without dropping a set, and in the process putting herself a win away from reaching the Roland Garros qualifying rounds as of right.

“I thought I was moving a lot better today and just more comfortable with the ground and the surface. Obviously, coming into the first match, not having a great sense of the court and the clay and the atmosphere, just having a practice in the morning beforehand.

“I just feel like I have footing a lot better, hand-eye coordination also no matter you practice you lose that a little bit, just the reaction of being in a match. So, I feel that was better, just visualising a little bit more tactic-wise, focussing on a pattern, I thought I returned a little bit better today. That’s still something I can improve on tremendously.”

Kristina Mladenovic def. Carla Suárez Navarro 6-3 6-2

Kristina Mladenovic – 2017 WTA Porsche Tennis Grand Prix (c) Jimmie48 Tennis Photography

She will face Kristina Mladenovic, who certainly hold back on her thoughts in the weeks surrounding Sharapova’s initial suspension. She has been in form as well this year, winning her first WTA Tour title in St. Petersburg. Not only that but she followed it up with reaching the Acapulco final and the Indian Wells semi-final, so she is sharp. She was tested on Friday against Carla Suárez Navarro, despite what looked like a comfortable score-line.

“I tried to play a bit of a different game of what I’m usually producing. I always tried doing a pass with Carla and she is very talented, plays a lot of top spin, opens the court, mixes up, plays a lot of angles, especially on clay.

“I really tried you know at times when she was putting all these heavy top spin shots not to rush and place my back and also play with a heavy top spin, opening myself angles and giving myself more time to then step in the court and be aggressive. I’m very happy because

“I also enjoyed that kind of game, it’s maybe less powerful or slower at times but it’s smart and it’s tough when you play angles and make the opponent run it’s a great tactic as well.”

Of course there is a lot on the line on Saturday – and her answer regarding the semi-final in light of hew aired views was surprisingly diplomatic given the feeding frenzy over the past week surrounding Sharapova’s comeback.

“I don’t feel nervous at all about facing her. It’s a semi-final. So, whoever is on the other side of the net, it’s one of the best events of the year, of the season; all of the players appreciate this tournament.

“It’s such a great event to be part of, especially when you go deep in the event. And about Maria, we were all aware of her comeback this week and she has shown a great form. She is fresh, she’s producing some great tennis. So, on my side I’m just expecting a very difficult match like all the players that I played.”

She continued: “I mean it’s a fact that she’s been caught for positive anti-doping but she’s not the first some and some other players also got the right to come back and play tennis but with a different road. They wouldn’t get invitations in the tournaments. So, that’s the question. Of course, she is authorised to come back and play tennis but then the question is like why she get that extra help compared to some other players.”

Mladenovic is without a full time coach at the moment, and has therefore been doing all her own scouting. It has obviously served her well this week. She has been able to adjust her game specifically to counter balance her opponents’ strengths. She denied defending champion Angelique Kerber any sort of rhythm, she changed her style again to match the versatility and variety offered up by Suárez Navarro. So what did she expect to see on the other side of the net from Sharapova?

She said: “I’m hanging around watching everybody and I did a great job because I’m in the semi-final and I’m playing against her, so I did the right move to go out there and watch a little bit. Like I said, she’s been quite impressive. She didn’t play for a long time and coming back in such a strong event and beating some quality player with all king of different games, she played the experienced player, younger, but like different style, and she showed a great from.

“She didn’t drop a set so far. So, I will definitely have to play my game as I was doing so far trying to adjust the best tactic depending of the opponent – obviously, I’m not going to tell you how I’m going to play or at least try to play tomorrow (laughs)

“I think she’s still doing like mastering her big game, her A-game, if I have to say. I didn’t hear anything extremely new that she added in her game. I just thought that she is playing her game like really well and solid like she used to be in the past. Obviously, she is a great player, so it’s all going to be about small details. We are at that stage of the competition that of course it’s going to be a difficult match.”

Mladenovic and Sharapova are scheduled on Centre Court, not before 4pm (3pm BST).

 

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Main Image Credit: Jimmie48 Tennis Photography

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