Miami: Sharapova d. Kvitova

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MIAMI, Fla.—The quarterfinal match between Maria Sharapova and Petra Kvitova, seeded No. 4 and 8 respectively, lasted over an hour-and-a-half—quite a spell for a 7-5, 6-1 win by the Russian. And it wasn’t like it the match ate up all that clock because the women engaged in lengthy rallies, alternating puffballs with moonballs.

Neither of these young ladies does puffballs or moonballs.

Rather, Sharapova imposed the pace she wanted on the match, and her familiar penchant for deliberation—it’s so pronounced that I had to ask my neighbor in the press box if the WTA has a time-violation policy—was such that it often seemed she was more interested in hypnotizing Kvitova than gamboling around the court.

The approach worked in more ways than one. When the women returned from their chairs to play the 10th game of the second set, Kvitova stood for a moment at the service notch with her back to the net, then gently lifted her left heel and balanced her foot on her toe for a moment—an odd tribute to the woman who now held her in thrall.

Beyond that, Sharapova spotted Kvitova a service break in the very first game and, despite stiff opposition through the entire first set, remained unflappable. This was the fourth consecutive win for Sharapova over one of the few women who’s capable of matching her, forehand for forehand, backhand blast for backhand blast.

Kvitova, who reeled off 12 games in a row against Ana Ivanovic in the fourth round, had been having a strong tournament. Today, her form was reversed. She started well but ran out of resistance under the relentless, oppressive pressure applied by Sharapova.

After opening the match with a break, Kvitova raced out to a 40-0 lead in the second game. In no time, though, she was at deuce thanks to a double-fault. But she saved that game to maintain her lead, which held up through the next three games.

Sharapova wouldn’t threaten Kvitova’s lead until the sixth game, when she created two break-point chances. Kvitova handled the first one with a service winner to the forehand, and the second with a wickedly swerving ace. Another unreturned service winner followed by a massive forehand approach winner left Kvitova still ahead, 4-2.

Biding her time, Sharapova then survived a close service game of her own. She threatened again in the next game, and this time she made it stick. At break point, Kvitova cracked a superb serve right down the pipe. Somehow, Sharapova speared it back. The women had a fast and furious rally of about six shots—until Kvitova buried a backhand in the net. 4-all.

The next three games were holds, which left Kvitova serving to stay in at at 5-6. That’s always a dangerous junction for someone who’s as prone to anxiety as Kvitova, and once again her nerve failed with no help required from across the net. She hit a double-fault and then made a pair of forehand errors to present Sharapova with a set point. Sharapova fed her a few balls and Kvitova compliantly put another one into the net to close the chapter.

At that point, you could almost hear Sharapova thinking, “Hmm. Just as I thought.” She went back to work then, recording a quick hold and then a break. She was taking her sweet old time, allowing Kvitova all the time she needed to feel discouraged, to decide it wasn’t her day, to blame the sunny conditions or the threat of rain for her situation, or to feel prickling irritation at the degree to which Sharapova had asserted her authority.

Unfortunately for Kvitova, she was powerless to come up with a strategy to combat or offset Sharapova’s advantage. Sharapova broke her again and moments later had a 5-0 lead. Kvitova managed to win a face-saving game in the second set, but Sharapova then served it out at love.

Stat of the Match: Sharapova took such good care of her serve and rallied so consistently that Kvitova earned just two break points, converting just one in the very first game of the match.

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