Considering there are players who have basically won Wimbledon with their serve – Richard Krajicek windmills to mind – Maria Sharapova may have to do it the hard way if she is going to triumph again this year.
The 2004 champion gave up seven double faults in her straight-sets victory against Johanna Konta on Monday; she followed with eight more in an otherwise routine 6-3, 6-1 dispatching of Richel Hogenkamp of the Netherlands on Wednesday. These are perturbing stats for the No4 seed.
Of course, Sharapova’s first serve – when it goes in – is formidable; she won 87% of points on it against Hogenkamp. But she has recurring issues with her ball toss and frequently she elects to let it drop and reset. She took her time between deliveries in the Hogenkamp match, perhaps hoping to compose herself, but at times, as she rocked slightly and inhaled deeply, she came across like a vertigo sufferer contemplating a bungee jump. There was a gentle breeze on court, but mostly from spectators flapping fans to keep cool.
Asked if she had ever served three successive double faults before – as she did in the first set – Sharapova replied somewhat tetchily: “I’m sure, yeah.” She went on: “I didn’t find the rhythm in a few of those games. The good thing, after that I regained my timing, is that I started tossing the ball a little bit more consistently. That helped me.”
Sharapova’s serve may have been malfunctioning but the 28-year-old Russian unleashed any frustrations on her groundstrokes. She hit fiercely off both wings and ended up blasting the compact Hogenkamp, 23, into submission, especially in the second set. Hogenkamp, for her part, had been competitive in the early exchanges; she had obviously decided that Sharapova’s front-to-back movement was something she could exploit and feathered drop shots from all over the court. But this tactic, like anything else Hogenkamp tried, suffered from diminishing returns as the match progressed.
So far, it has been a very cordial draw for Sharapova: the world No126, Konta, a wild card, followed by the No123, Hogenkamp, a qualifier. It gets a little more testing with Romania’s Irina-Camelia Begu, the 29th seed, in the next round. The Russian will surely improve as the tournament goes on and she needs to.
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