By Ros Satar, in Stuttgart
- Caroline Garcia def. Maria Sharapova, 3-6 7-6(6) 6-4
STUTTGART, GERMANY – It was not to be for three-time former champion Maria Sharapova, after she lost in her opening round to Caroline Garcia at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix.
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This time last year, this quietly efficient tournament with a small but often perfectly formed draw boasting more than a hungry lion’s share of the World Top 10 resembled a real circus as Maria Sharapova’s doping ban came to an end, and her tour return was expedited with a wildcard.
The draw gods had been kind, and her run to the semi-final seemed to herald her return as if nothing had happened. Of course the script was never going to be easy. At the time she admitted that during her 15-months off the tour, there was no real substitute for match-play, and the accumulation of matches on an unforgiving surface saw her hit a run of injuries from Rome onwards.
This year, we were back to the die-hards who return year after year to cover the tournament, and she was up against a young player whose endearing quality of wearing her heart on her sleeve at times has been her downfall.
Not today though – we were treated to another tight affair between them, with Caroline Garcia finally putting paid to the demons of THAT French Open appearance, with a hard fought three setter to snap her losing streak.
The first set had been all Sharapova’s quick start, but Garcia picked up the pace and perhaps more importantly kept her wits about her where too often they had strayed for a bit of a walkabout. In fact the walkabout had been on the Russian, as she admitted after the match.
She said: “Having not competed in a few weeks to come out and play a pretty solid first set, did all the right things, served well even though I made a few unforced errors and a few doubles at the wrong time. But overall I thought that was an improvement from some of my previous events that I competed at. And physically I felt quite strong.
“Obviously, it’s not the result that I wanted and especially after being up in that third set just having a little bit of a walkabout but other than that there is a lot of good things to take away from it; maybe not immediately but …”
The early onset of injuries since her return has made her comeback choppy, to say the least, and perhaps her choice of events has been more forced than planned.
She continued: “I haven’t played many tournaments since I came back an that’s just the reality of it and it’s always great when you are playing matches, when you are winning matches but then maybe at a certain point you need to let your body rest.
“I want that match play but obviously coming out of it the losing end of a match like this doesn’t necessarily give you those matches for the next whatever ten, eleven days it is until the beginning of Madrid.
“So, that’s always a little bit of a tricky situation. But I think just listening to my body a little bit better and maybe not going into match play when I’m just not ready and not being so stubborn like I find myself being a lot of the times.”
Meanwhile for the conqueror, it was an impressive display of mental fortitude, and signs that her sparkling run towards the end of the year, all the way to the semi-finals of the WTA season-ending finale.
“I think mentally it was a very important match for me and I kept positive and kept fighting even if it was difficult when I was down, and that is a very important point for me, especially after the last couple of matches I played.
“And you know I’m quite satisfied also to final beat her; after seven years I went through (laughs). So, you don’t have to talk about me anymore about French Open 2011. We are over it, I did it (laughs). So, no, for sure it was important for me and the last couples of matches I played was a long time ago but it was a difficult task. The one in Madrid was quite tight but I really wanted to do the best I could and fight until the end and see how it goes.”
Sharapova is next scheduled to play in Madrid, which takes place between 6-13 May.
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