Wimbledon: Larcher de Brito d. Sharapova
WIMBLEDON, England—The Deci-Belles would make a good name for an all-girl band, and you couldn’t ask for a more appropriate pair of founding members than Maria Sharapova and Michelle Larcher de Brito, two of tennis' pioneering shriekers. They wouldn’t need to pay for microphones, anyway.
The women put on their first concert today on Court 2 at Wimbledon, a venue where the authorities once threatened to penalize a 16-year-old Larcher de Brito for her noise-making—she lost before they could do anything about it. But the match today drew a packed house; many in the audience even sang along with Larcher de Brito’s extended wail.
Few of them expected it to turn out the way it did, though, with a 6-3, 6-4 upset win for the world No. 131 over the world No. 3. Larcher de Brito had once been touted as a possible successor to her fellow Bollettieri product Sharapova, as a player as a well as a screamer, but setbacks and inconsistency had taken her off most people's radar screens; a fall on grass that put her out for three months didn't help, either. Today was the first time we could see the reason for the buzz in the first place. Larcher de Brito, taking the ball early with her two-handed ground strokes and taking away Sharapova’s time, was the better, more aggressive, more consistent player the whole way.
She was also the one standing up for longer periods. Sharapova, like pretty much every one of her fellow players today, hit the deck multiple times. In the second set, she went down hard enough to need a medical timeout for a strained hip. After the last one, she told chair umpire Alison Lang, “this court is dangerous,” and she appeared to be less and less sure of her footwork as the match progressed. By late in the second set, the only thing working was her serve, the shot where she didn't have to move. Sharapova's return, usually a strength, failed her when she needed it. Afterward, she said that Larcher de Brito had played too well, and that he own shots had lacked depth. She said the court was slippery, but she didn’t blame it for her performance.
The match reached its peak—its cacophonous crescendo—with Larcher de Brito serving for it at 5-4 in the second. After practicing her serve and jogging around the court to stay warm during Sharapova’s 10-minute medical timeout, Larcher de Brito reached match point five times, only to watch Maria play her best tennis of the day to save all five. But Larcher de Brito was just as stubborn on the two break points she faced. The tension rose with every swing and every grunt; you felt like if Larcher de Brito didn't win it here, she might never be able to win it—as she said later, "It was now or never." She made it happen now, with a final belted ground stroke that Sharapova couldn’t quite belt back.
Sharapova and Azarenka, the second and third seeds, both went out on this Wednesday of carnage at Wimbledon. Larcher de Brito will play her first encore against Karin Knapp. Like everyone else in her half, she has a chance to keep the music going.
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