Maria Sharapova called the shots pushing Samantha Stosur around the court in the past. But the red clay resembled a slippery slope as the seventh-seeded Russian stared down a one set, 3-4 deficit today.
Refusing to stumble, Sharapova stepped up to the baseline and charged back like a woman running downhill. Regaining her range, Sharapova ran off nine games in a row shoving Stosur right out of the draw, 3-6, 6-4, 6-0 to advance to her eighth French Open quarterfinal.
It was Sharapova's 17th win in her last 18 matches in Paris as she steps toward a third straight Roland Garros final.
This is a lopsided match-up because Sharapova takes the ball earlier, hits harder and flatter, plays tougher and nullifies Stosur's strengths. The hellacious topspin of Stosur's kick serve-forehand combination can torment shorter opponents forcing them to counter a heavy ball bounding shoulder high. That shot sits up nicely in the 6-foot-2 Sharapova's strike zone and she came out crunching her two-handed backhand crosscourt to Stosur's weaker backhand wing. Stosur, who can stiff-arm her two-hander at times, fought off two break points in the second game varying the depth and angle of her slice backhand.
The 2010 finalist drew errors from the Sharapova forehand, converting her fourth break point for a 4-3 lead when Sharapova netted a forehand. Targeting the Russian's forehand, Stosur saved two break points holding for 5-3. Playing as a strong favorite to reach the final, Sharapova tightened up, double-faulting for the third time to drop the 48-minute opener. Sharapova surrendered serve just twice through three rounds, but matched that total in the opening set.
The 2012 champion broke to start the second set and backed up the break only to donate her serve with another double fault as Stosur leveled, 2-all.
If Sharapova goes on to reach the final, she may well look back at the 3-4 game as a pivotal moment. Stosur crept in to attack a second serve at 30-all, but lined a forehand into the top of the tape. When margins are so slight, nerves are exposed. Sharapova went for a bold wide serve on the next point to work through a tricky hold. She never looked back.
Exploiting a nervous three-error game from a rattled Stosur, who was a few swings from serving for the match moments earlier, an empowered Sharapova broke at love and served out the set when Stosur sailed a forehand three feet long.
Step into Stosur's shoes for a second: You're facing one of the hardest hitters in the game who has beaten you 13 out of 15 times, she's reducing the cornerstone of your game to rubble, she's growing stronger with each passing point and punctuating winners with a shriek and a fist. You'd probably crumble to feelings of inevitable doom, too. Still, the ruthlessness of the Sharapova's returns in the decider left Stosur, whose kick serve can confound, looking lost and haunted. Sharapova won 12 of the 14 points played on the flustered Aussie's serve in the third set, converting all three break points in punishing just about everything within reach.
Sharapova's game can lack subtlety—her problem solving usually hinges on hitting harder, the second serve can be sketchy under pressure and she didn't always generate enough topspin to clear the net when confronted with low slice to her forehand—but she compensates with sheer ferocity that can command. She'll face Garbine Muguruza for a trip to her fourth consecutive French Open semifinal. In their lone prior meeting, Sharapova swept Muguruza, 6-2, 6-2, on the red clay of Rome last year.