French Open: Sharapova d. Kvitova

by: Richard Pagliaro | June 07, 2012

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MSRRMaria Sharapova's first serve died in the dirt. Her last serve sparked career resurrection.

The (temporary) world No. 2 slammed a second-serve ace down the middle to seal a commanding, 6-3, 6-3 sweep of Petra Kvitova in style. Sharapova roared into her first French Open final and regained the world No. 1 ranking in the process.

Competing with power and poise, Sharapova mastered whipping winds, an opponent whose play ranged from erratic to explosive, and the immense pressure of the moment with both the top spot and a shot at the career Grand Slam riding on the outcome.

One of the toughest tasks in tennis is winning when you're favored to win. The Nike swoosh on Sharapova's dress was accompanied by a bulls-eye on her back, as she started the day as the highest-ranked woman still standing, with the most at stake. Producing one of the finest clay-court performances of her career, Sharapova transformed the occasion into restoration day: She will wake up Monday morning as world No. 1 for the first time since June 8, 2008.

"I'm getting goose bumps," Sharapova told ESPN2's Darren Cahill after the match.

After a bumpy start that saw her bury a first serve into the clay, Sharapova gave Kvitova headaches in avenging her 2011 Wimbledon final loss to the talented left-hander. Sharapova saved a break point in each of her first two service games, the second with a searing forehand winner to hold for 2-2. Kvitova, who converted just one of 11 break points in her loss to Sharapova in last month's Stuttgart semifinals, lost control of her forehand, played a sloppy game to drop serve at love and hand Sharapova the break and a 3-2 advantage.

The Sharapova serve, predicated on a high ball toss that can be very tricky to time in swirling winds, was the key stroke today. She served 79 percent, won 75 percent of her first-serve points, and saved four of five break points she faced.

Playing first-strike tennis on both serve and return, Sharapova had Kvitova playing catch-up from the fifth game and never allowed her to make meaningful inroads in the match. An imposing front-runner, Sharapova won eight of the next 10 points played on her serve, smoked a forehand pass down the line to earn triple set point, and seized the 40-minute first set when Kvitova steered a forehand down the line.

Wisely playing drives deep and down the middle to give herself more margin for error, Sharapova denied Kvitova access to angles and was better from the baseline. She saved a break point to hold for a 2-1 second-set lead. Lingering ennui over opportunity lost cost Kvitova, who double-faulted to drop serve and give Sharapova a 3-1 lead.

Kvitova has all the tools to be a future No. 1, but lacked the consistency and intensity Sharapova brings to every point. In the seventh game, a Kvitova shot was called out on game point—and ESPN2's ShotSpot replay showed the ball touched the line—but Sharapova held for 4-3. Kvitova never recovered, netting a forehand to fall behind 3-5.

Sharapova's surgically-repaired right shoulder once served as a stumbling block for her return to the elite. Fittingly, as she secured the No. 1 ranking, Sharapova reached back and sealed a trip to her third major final in her last four Grand Slam events with an ace. She thrust her arms toward the sky, wearing the wide smile of someone who realized one goal, with another still in reach.

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