I took in Maria Sharapova's two-and-a-half hour, three-set victory over Simona Halep in Cincinnati Friday night. The match nearly had it all, including a bothersome butterfly that interrupted play, a bad call that set back Halep, and a kitchen-originating fog that hung over the court for part of the third set, smelling wonderfully of barbecued food.
The sum of it all made for just the dramatic exclamation mark needed after a day and evening session full of largely predictable, straight-sets singles results. When it was over, Sharapova had struck down everything that came her way, from a vocal Romanian-fan contingent to her true foe, Halep.
Little did I know, Sharapova would go on one night later against Ana Ivanovic and up the ante. As many know by now, she did not take kindly to Ivanovic calling for medical attention, which included her lying down so that her blood pressure could be taken. Directly after double-faulting to on break point at 3-4 in the third set, Sharapova sarcastically shot a look, a gesture, and a few choice words at chair umpire Felix Torralba. "Check ... check her blood pressure," Sharapova said toward the chair, tapping the edge of her racquet on the inside of her upper arm.
More than anything, Sharapova was surely upset that she was in the process of not sealing the deal on a match in which she staged a magnificent comeback from a one-set, 4-0 deficit. The Russian's coach, Sven Groeneveld, allegedly reminded her on one changeover that she was "playing Ana Ivanovic"—as if the Serb, his own former charge, would implode soon enough. But Sharapova didn't just not solve her opponent; she presented more quandaries to herself as the match wore on.
Ultimately losing 6-2, 5-7, 7-5 had to sting—but what that match will be remembered for most is a fleeting look at an unbridled Sharapova. This was one of those moments when she went off her well-greased PR locomotive's rails, if briefly. ESPN's own Pam Shriver, often one to speak frankly, editorialized like so via Twitter:
To be sure, it was not Sharapova's finest sporting moment, though hardly her only on-court aside to a chair umpire or an audience en masse (as this all-WTA rundown will attest). It was also not Ivanovic's first medical break perceived as ill-timed by an opponent. At the end of it all, after nearly three hours on court, Sharapova was dismissed, and Ivanovic found her fantastic first point of the match's last game among SportsCenter's top 10 plays of the day:
These two will certainly see another day on court. Tennis fans can only hope it comes in New York, and if so, expect Sharapova to again appear a woman of steel.
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