One of the more popular stats in tennis is the differential between winners and unforced errors (as in, 10 winners and five unforced errors yields a +5 differential). For Maria Sharapova, though, the differential pertaining to her aces and double faults might be just as telling.
Today in Doha, Sharapova posted an ace-to-double-fault ratio of +5 (a dozen aces to seven doubles) and took just one hour and 22 minutes to dismiss Sam Stosur. The score was 6-2, 6-4, and if you saw only the first set and half of the second, you could be forgiven for asking yourself, “This Stosur—she actually gets paid for this?”
But in all fairness, Sharapova was at or close to her best through the bulk of this match, and certainly in the early period. What was particularly striking was her outstanding movement. She may not be the most fleet or nimble player, but she’s worked very hard on her footwork, and in this match it showed. When Sharapova wasn’t bombing first serves, she was clubbing winners left and right.
Sharapova is one of those players whose game would really become a bit more transparent if they counted service winners as a distinct category (as opposed to just aces, or the usual grab bag of winners). She didn’t win a single point on her second serve in the entire first set, but the good news was she hit so few of them—Sharapova made 80 percent of her first serves.
One of the key indicators of match quality is when the service breaks occur, and by that measure this match was a dozer. Sharapova broke in the first game of each set, and Stosur was left to hope that the world No. 3 would lose her focus or rhythm and allow her to sneak back into it. That almost happened in the second set, when Sharapova sallied forth to build on a 6-2, 3-0 lead.
Sharapova had a game point to go up 4-0, but hit one of her more inopportune double faults to fall back to deuce. A backhand error and a double fault on the next two points allowed Stosur to get back into the match, and when the Aussie survived two break points in the next game to close to 2-3, it began to look like she might avert the embarrassing blowout.
The key game of the match occurred after each woman held, leaving Sharapova to serve for 5-3. By that time, Stosur had built significant momentum, while Sharapova’s happy feet suddenly looked more like two left feet. In no time, Sharapova found herself down, 15-40. But at that point, she uncorked three consecutive aces to get to game point.
But Stosur wasn’t finished yet. She reached break point again with a forehand smash-volley. (One of life’s enduring mysteries is why Stosur, who’s got excellent hands and terrific net skills in doubles, doesn’t attack more frequently.) Once again, Sharapova answered with an ace. Again, Stosur fought back. But at deuce, Sharapova hit her fifth ace of the game (and her 10th of the match), and Stosur lost it when she took a poor poke at a second serve.
Sharapova knows a good thing when she sees it. After a Stosur hold for 4-5, the Russian forced a backhand return error, then fired off her last two aces to keep Stosur at arm’s length as she served it out.
It’s a high stakes poker game in Doha this week, and Sharapova anted up nicely in this quarterfinal round. But it remains to be seen if all those aces will be enough to take the jackpot—the No. 1 ranking.