By Ros Satar, in Stuttgart
- Kristina Madenovic def. Maria Sharapova [WC] 3-6 7-5 6-4
- Laura Siegemund [WC] def. Simona Halep  6-4 7-5
- Mladenovic v Siegemund H2H: Siegemund leads 1-0
STUTTGART, GERMANY – After a surreal week in a normally quiet but quality WTA Premier tournament, Maria Sharapova’s comeback was halted as Kristina Mladenovic advanced to the finals of the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix to meet last year’s finalist.
Pitted by some as a grudge match after Mladenovic’s frank comments on Sharapova’s suspension having tested positive for Meldonium in 2016, almost as much had been made of that as soon as the Frenchwoman had put out two-time defending champion Angelique Kerber.
But dig under all the interrogations in press conferences and the influx of journalists all around the world for that first match, Sharapova had been all business throughout the tournament. Coming in to the semi-final she had not dropped a set and was just one win away from a spot in the qualifying rounds for the French Open, as of right.
At the start it all looked like one way traffic, as befits an owner of three Porsches already, banging down an ace in the first game and grabbing the early initiative from Mladenovic to build up a comfortable 5-2 lead, and finally closing out the set to love, 6-3.
She even carried forward that momentum to the start of the second set, breaking the Frenchwoman in the opening game but was pegged back as the Frenchwoman kept battling. Mladenovic had to dig deep to save three break points before maybe taking advantage of a tiring Sharapova, to level the second set.
The first blood in the deciding set went to Mladenovic, breaking – but the real moment of truth was trying to serve the match out leading 5-3 as the double-faults came, the wonky ball-toss, the works.
You cannot give a player with Sharapova’s experience and fighting spirit a look at nervy serves, and the Frenchwoman surrendered the break almost meekly by comparison with the kevel of fight it had taken to get to that point.
With over two and a half hours on the clock, the conclusion of one of the most hyped up weeks in tennis came to a halt as Mladenovic overcame an edgy wobble over the line after failing to serve the match the first time, and breaking a weary looking Sharapova at the end.
She said, after the match: “I definitely had a bit of a let-down and I think that allowed her to get back in the match and gain confidence and start competing again and I just didn’t keep putting that pressure on her and I think when you are able to give that to a player, that’s played very well this year, it can become dangerous.
“If at the start of the week I’d said that I’d be in this position playing three two-set matches and then going out of the tournament with a three-setter in the semi-finals I’d be pretty happy with that. You’re never sure what level you are going to come onto the court with after a long break but I feel like it’s a great base with which I started here.”
For Mladenovic, it was a continuation of some strong form. Earlier in the year she won her first WTA title, and seems to be picking up a good head of steam.
She described the drama of the last two games: “The game at 4-2 was extremely important and I managed to hold it. I saved a couple of break points and that was really the key. Even at 5-4, on my chair at the change, I was pretty sure she will come back strong and that it was not over yet. You know, she played a solid game at 5-2 with her serve and 5-3 I’m not sure, except the double fault I made,
“I’m not sure I did anything wrong, she just played very aggressive, made some winners. I remember one serve of mine I was quite satisfied about it, I think it was quite fast, like 189, and she came with the forehand return winner. So, you know she is the kind of player that always pushes you to the extreme and I’m very kind of proud that I actually managed to close it out the next game which was very difficult.”
Mladenovic v Laura Siegemund – H2H: Siegemund leads 1-0
Last year’s finalist Laura Siegemund halted the strong progress of Simona Halep, who had reached her second semi-final on the quicker clay in Stuttgart. The aggressive play of the German prevented Halep from even showing what we know she is capable of on the surface, but it has been a positive run here for Halep in a weekend that started with controversy.
The Fed Cup shenanigans in the tie between Romania and Great Britain had seen Halep fend off questions about the behaviour of now suspended team captain Ilie Nastase, before she also admitted that after her meltdown in Miami having been in control of the match with Johanna Konta, she realised she had to make some changes to her focus.
She said: “I watched [the coaching timeouts in Miami] and I was ashamed how I looked.”
After her loss to Siegemund, there were at least some postives that she could take away from the match, in what had been probably her best performance this year having started the year with injuries.
She said: “The rhythm was difficult. I knew before the match that it is going to be like that. But still it was a bit tough to take the domination and to dominate the match. I couldn’t. I came back, I stayed strong till the end. Yes, she played well today.
“I’m a little bit upset that I didn’t finish the second set where I had many chances. But that’s tennis. I take it like a positive tournament. It’s my best tournament so far this year. So, I cannot be upset. I felt pretty well the ball here. I’m looking forward to Madrid and I’m looking forward to keep working as I did until now.”
Siegemund excels on this court, with the speed and the lack of elements. She plays an aggressive game and being a local girl, she will have the support of the crowd behind her.
She assessed: “For me it’s one of the next five clay court tournaments, of course it’s my favourite one and I want to perform well and all that does create some pressure. I did a good job staying focussed on my goals and not other expectations, what I wanted to achieve here.
“I think she has also variety in her game. She can be very aggressive but she has hands an all that. Yes, I think it’s going to be very hard.”
Siegemund and Mladenovic are scheduled on Centre Court, not before 3pm (2pm BST).
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