The No. 7 seed came back from 1-4 in the first set and fought off five set points in the second to beat 12th-seeded Radwanska, 7-6 (4), 7-5, in exactly two hours. The win takes Sharapova to her first Grand Slam quarterfinal in two years and puts her three wins away from a career Grand Slam.
Heading in, Sharapova had won six of her seven matches with Radwanska, but her only loss came at their only Slam contest. Considering Radwanska would be Radwanska—for much of the first set she made Caroline Wozniacki look error-prone; the Pole made her first error all the way in the sixth game—the result was hardly a foregone conclusion. But we knew that this match would be on Sharapova’s racquet.
That was good news for Sharapova where her 47 winners were concerned. Not so much for the 44 errors. (Radwanska hit 13 winners and 12 errors.) Her groundstrokes were fierce but sometimes closer to the net and lines than necessary. Her serve, aided by an increasingly dependable toss, continues to look good. She double-faulted seven times, but also served seven aces. She didn’t play her best tennis, but she once again showed some great fight, especially from the middle of the second set on. Sharapova saved two set points down 3-5, eventually held, then won the next three games to win the second set and the match.
Radwanska brought the goods, but as is often the problem when she plays higher-ranked players, they weren’t good enough to trump the power of a player like Sharapova. Still, Radwanska’s trademark placement and touch, not to mention lovely movement, were on full display. You could see how she beat Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova to win the junior singles title here in 2006.
As the prospect of a career Slam becomes more real—and the question ‘How could Maria Sharapova win the French?’ becomes less rhetorical—it’ll be interesting to see how the long view of Sharapova's career changes shape, how the present player fares in the inevitable comparisons to the past one, and especially to other current champs.
First, Sharapova versus past Sharapova. We know she had shoulder surgery and didn’t play a singles match from August 2008 to May 2009. She’s not the type to blame injury for loss of form, but she wasn’t the same player for a while after, especially where her serving was concerned. But if she equals or surpasses her best result here, a pre-surgery 2007 semifinal showing, on her worst surface, can we say she’s back?
Then, Sharapova versus other present champs. (Let’s leave Serena Williams out of it since she’s, well, the best.) Kim Clijsters has 18 more titles and one more Slam, but I sense many consider Sharapova the greater great. Would winning the career Slam confirm that for those folks and convince others? And where would a title put her in relation to Venus Williams, who currently has four more Slams but no career Slam? These comparisons aren’t necessarily fair—for one thing, Venus and Clijsters are presumably closer to the end of their careers than Sharapova—but they’re likely unavoidable.
Sharapova would say it’s too early for all this. And the first to agree might be her quarterfinal opponent, Andrea Petkovic, who easily beat Sharapova at the Australian Open. Which is to say, three more matches are so few but also so many.