The serve may be faltering but the nerve of Maria Sharapova remains as strong as ever.
The Russian hit 10 double faults and dropped her first set of the tournament to an inspired performance from the unseeded American Coco Vandeweghe but as she so often does, Sharapova found a way. Her 6-3, 6-7, 6-2 victory put her into the Wimbledon semi-finals for the fifth time and for the 20th time in a grand slam event.
When she failed to serve out the match at 5-4 in the second set and promptly lost the tie-break 7-3, lesser players might have folded. Sharapova is a mental giant and she found her game again to clinch victory after two hours 46 minutes and set up a semi-final against world No1 Serena Williams or the former No 1 Victoria Azarenka.
“I was pretty dominant in the first set and beginning of the second,” Sharapova said. “Then things slipped away a little, losing the tie-break having served for the match but I really regrouped well in the third. It’s been a while since I’ve been to this stage of the tournament but I’m happy with the way I’ve competed in every match.”
It was not just the double faults that caused Sharapova trouble. Though she has now done 38 double faults in the tournament, no one is better at shrugging off disappointment and regaining her focus. Having let slip a 3-0 lead in the decider to be back on serve at 3-2, she broke Vandeweghe twice more to earn a place in the last four for the first time since 2011.
In her first grand slam quarter-final, Vandeweghe can consider herself unlucky not to have downed the 2004 champion. She hit almost twice as many winners and made only marginally more unforced errors. It came down to a handful of points and Sharapova won them.
After a false start when the players came off during the warmup because of rain, Sharapova was under pressure immediately, rushed by the aggressive returns of Vandeweghe, who had knocked out Andrea Petkovic and Lucie Safarova. Allied with her powerful serve and a more than useful net game, she took the attack to Sharapova.
It all seemed in vain when Sharapova served for the match at 5-4 but as the wind got up, Vandeweghe refused to buckle and forced a decider. Both players took a bathroom break but Sharapova emerged the stronger and held her nerve, yet again, to advance to the last four.
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