Tough stuff from Sharapova, Bouchard
PARIS -- French Open officials should be pleased because there is still one marquee name on the women's side of the tournament. Canadian fans should take pride that Eugenie Bouchard is in a Slam semifinal again. And Garbine Muguruza should be happy with her performance at Roland Garros -- and relieved that she has her cellphone back.
There Muguruza was on Tuesday afternoon, just 20 years old, six days removed from a second-round, straight-sets upset of Serena Williams -- her tennis hero growing up -- and a game away from upsetting the other big name in women's tennis, Maria Sharapova. The win over Serena caused enough of a stir that Muguruza's coach temporarily confiscated her cellphone to avoid distractions.
Just as she did before routing Serena on Court Suzanne Lenglen last week, Muguruza took Court Philippe Chatrier thinking she had nothing to lose against a famous name. And early on, she played as if she had everything to win, crushing Sharapova 6-1 in a first set that took just 27 minutes, scarcely enough time to do a Google search on Muguruza's background (born in Venezuela, resides in Spain). She was leading 5-4 in the second set on the main court and was poised to advance to her first semifinals in a Grand Slam.
And then, wham, Sharapova's experience and skill took over. Or perhaps it was Muguruza's youth and inexperience.
At least we know it wasn't Muguruza distracting herself on her phone by reading the tweet sent from Andy Murray's mother that compared Sharapova to a tea bag because "put her in hot water and you'll find out how strong she is."
Sharapova didn't know how to respond to such a description -- "I think it's better to ask her than me. Obviously she has a better sense of what's going on out there" -- but whatever prompted the rally, the career Slam champion came back to win the tense second set 7-5 then cruised to a 6-1 victory in the third set to knock Muguruza out of the tournament.
"It's tough now because I had the opportunity to win the match," Muguruza said. "But in my own words, I need more experience in these kind of matches. I think I played very good in three sets, but in the important moments I need to improve my mentality."
Two key moments stood out. The second set was tied 5-5 with Muguruza serving and up 30-0. Sharapova came back to break her and then win the set. In the fourth game of the third set, Muguruza had five chances to break Sharapova but just could not pull it off. Rather than evening the set 2-2, she fell behind 3-1 and could not recover.
Sharapova won the next three games easily as her game rose and Muguruza's broke down. Muguruza had as many unforced errors in the third set (26) as she had in the first two combined. Sharapova, meanwhile, had just five unforced errors in that final set. Sharapova is 141-43 in three-set matches for her career and 11-3 this season. As she said earlier of her mindset, "You always enjoy the battle, but you always want it to end on a good note and a good way."
While Tuesday did not end in a good way for Muguruza, it did for fellow 20-year-old Eugenie Bouchard, who advanced to the semifinals, beating Carla Suarez Navarro 7-6 (4), 2-6, 7-5 in a tough back-and-forth match. The Canadian player is known for her mental strength, which she demonstrated against Navarro. She trailed 5-2 in the first set and 4-1 in the third but fought back each time to win.
"At the end of the day, whether I win or lose, I want to at least leave it all there and try and at least battle," Bouchard said. "I'm proud of the way I did that in both the first and third.
"I wouldn't say I surprised myself, no. I have come back in matches before. You know, it works both ways. Tennis can be like that, a bit up and down. I just really tried to forget about, you know, what the score was or anything and just tried to play the right way."
Bouchard has been compared to a young Sharapova -- if you consider Maria old at 27 -- and they share a similar outlook, treating fellow pros as competitors, not friends. For instance, asked to explain her relationship with Sharapova and her admiration of her semifinal opponent when she was a child, Bouchard replied: "We're not friends, so there is that. Yeah, of course, as a child I looked up to her and I remember watching her in the finals of Wimbledon and thought what she was doing was so cool and I wanted to do the same thing.
"For sure I respect her. But now we're in the semis of a Grand Slam, so I'm going to respect her but not put her too high on a pedestal and really just battle. That's what it's going to be. I will leave everything on court and just focus on myself and try my best to win."
While Milos Roanic failed in his attempt to become the first Canadian man in 91 years to reach a semifinal in a major by losing to Novak Djokovic, Bouchard is the only woman of any nationality to reach the semis in both majors this year. The last Canadian woman to reach a Grand Slam semi was Carling Bassett in 1984.
"I think the younger generation is ambitious. That's why they are in these stages of the tournament," Sharapova said. "I mean, the level that Muguruza has played this tournament was extremely high, as you saw the majority of the match today. Someone like Eugenie, who has been up-and-coming for a couple of years, I think this is the year where she's really broken through, especially at the Grand Slams, playing at a high level."