Maria Sharapova Will Cruise to 2014 French Open Final After Strong Start

Josh CohenCorrespondent IIJune 2, 2014

Russia's Maria Sharapova celebrates scoring a point during the fourth round match of the French Open tennis tournament against Australia's Samantha Stosur at the Roland Garros stadium, in Paris, France, Sunday, June 1, 2014. Sharapova won in three sets 3-6, 6-4, 6-0. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)
Darko Vojinovic/Associated Press

After breezing through her first four matches at Roland Garros, Maria Sharapova can look ahead at a clear path to the 2014 French Open final.

Entering the tournament seeded seventh, everything seems to be going Sharapova's way. None of her opponents has posed her a serious challenge, and now that she has mowed through them, she has a favorable draw en route to her first Grand Slam title since winning this event back in 2012.

That last French title proved her maturation as a clay player. She was better on hard and grass courts earlier in her career, but with age, Sharapova has become superior on this surface. Stress on her shoulder has led her to rely on more on her technique than her strength, and she maintains better balance as she slides.

Once again, that experience and those adjustments have made her look unstoppable at Roland Garros. She has not dropped a set thus far and has dominated in each match, including against 19th-seeded Samantha Stosur.

Stosur is a power-serving hard-court specialist, but she nonetheless has found prior success in this tournament, going to the finals in 2010. When Sharapova so resoundingly dispatched her, Stosur seemed helpless in her post-match comments.


'How quickly things can turn,' Stosur said. 'I don't think I did much wrong. It was just one of those things. You miss a ball, she hits a good serve next one, (you) play a sloppy game, and all of a sudden, you're even -- and she runs away with it.'

Not only was Sharapova in control, but she was impassioned, setting the tone of the match as much with her reactions to her points than with her play itself. When she's on her game and shouting after winners, she's as intimidating a presence as there is in tennis.

'There are so many emotions you go through in a match, and then there are always moments where you feel a bit of a momentum change,' the seventh-seeded Sharapova said. 'I think you feel a lot more as a player than maybe a spectator.'

With that win over Stosur, Sharapova faces Garbine Muguruza, who shocked No. 1 Serena Williams in the quarters, with a match against either No. 14 Carla Suarez-Navarro or No. 18 Eugenie Bouchard looming the round after.

This is the farthest Muguruza has ever advanced in Grand Slam competition, and it is as far as she will go this year at the French Open. Sharapova has too much of a talent edge and is playing with total self-assuredness; unlike Williams, Sharapova is not succumbing to errors, and she'll breeze through this one.

In the semis, she'll draw a tougher adversary, especially if Bouchard advances.

She throws opponents off-balance with an aggressive, quick-hitting style while still managing to effectively disguise her shots. Though Bouchard's groundstrokes work better on harder surfaces, her unorthodox pace of play could be frustrating to face on clay, as No. 8 Angelique Kerber discovered in the fourth round.

But Bouchard only gets the edge if she can dictate the action, and Sharapova is playing too confidently to let that happen. Take away Bouchard's unorthodoxy, and Sharapova is clearly a stronger player. A spot in the French Open final is hers to lose.

Once there, she'll very likely face Simona Halep. Seeded fourth, she's the highest-ranked woman remaining in the field after the top three seeds—Williams, Li Na and Agnieszka Radwanskaall fell prior to the fourth roundthe first time the top three seeds have fallen so early in the tournament's history.

Very few women in the world can compete with peak Sharapova, but Halep happens to be one of them. Halep is also at the top of her game right now, so there's no guarantees Sharapova will even be the favorite at that point.

Halep is also the last remaining woman in the field who can match Sharpova's ability. Until then, Sharapova should keep crushing each opponent who comes her way, and she could very well enter the final at Roland Garros still without having dropped a single set.