NEW YORK—After Maria Sharapova’s third-round win today on Arthur Ashe Stadium, she was asked which flavor in her new line of Sugarpova candy best describes her: Sassy? Sporty? Chic? Sharapova went with Quirky (seriously?). Perhaps if “Ruthless” was a flavor she would have opted for that, because that’s how she treated Stanford senior Mallory Burdette this afternoon. In just 58 minutes, Sharapova disposed of the No. 252-ranked player and NCAA doubles champion, 6-1, 6-1.
There are generally two ways for opponents to have success against Sharapova: 1) Push her around and force her to play defense; 2) Put some air under the ball and test her patience. Burdette could do neither. She hits a clean, hard, flat ball that played right into Sharapova’s strike zone. Burdette’s also not a great mover, and struggled to recover the moment Sharapova hurt her in a rally. In the ground stroke exchanges in which Burdette could establish equal footing, the rallies were spirited. They just didn’t happen that often. Sharapova was serving well enough and jumping on every return, turning most points lopsided from the first stroke. Burdette won just 18 percent of second-serve points (2 of 11), freeing up Sharapova to even tee off on first-serve returns. She was swinging free and easy and connecting with a high frequency.
Even in a blowout, at the start of the second set, Sharapova showed what could win and lose her the tournament. She served the opening game and began with two consecutive double faults. There was a breeze in Ashe, but it wasn’t the culprit; her form was wavering. She fell behind 0-40, but rallied back to deuce, shouting “Come on!” after drawing even. Sharapova recognized the value of that opening game. She refused to offer Burdette a lead or any semblance of hope, and made sure she held. In her presser after her second-round match Burdette spoke of how she admires Sharapova’s mental resolve. That game was a private lesson.
The next service game, however, Sharapova couldn’t escape her serving woes. She double-faulted two more times to hand the break to Burdette. She managed to control her serve the rest of the way, but never looked completely comfortable until her last service game. What her tenacity can give her, Sharapova’s serve can take away.
Through three rounds, Sharapova has surrendered only seven games. It won’t do anything to refute Gilles Simon’s argument for unequal prize money amongst the genders, but on a scorching day, it’s wise energy conservation. Sharapova has had fast starts like this at the Open in the past, only to get tripped up prematurely. She has not made it out of the fourth round since winning the title here in 2006. Next up is her old friend, Nadia Petrova. The two haven’t played in three years, but Sharapova hasn’t lost to her in seven, owning an 8-1 career record over her compatriot. With numbers like that, Sharapova needs to add a new flavor to her candy line: Confident.