French Open 2014 Women's Semifinals: Sharapova vs. Bouchard Preview, Prediction

Brendan O'MearaFeatured ColumnistJune 3, 2014

French Open 2014 Women's Semifinals: Sharapova vs. Bouchard Preview, Prediction

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    Darko Vojinovic/Associated Press

    Maria Sharapova dropped the first set against Garbine Muguruza, battled to a 7-5 win in the second set and drubbed her in the third to advance to a fourth consecutive semifinal.

    This 2014 French Open hasn't been the easiest for Sharapova, but she's showing that she can win in the face of adversity.

    Eugenie Bouchard repelled Spaniard Carla Suarez Navarro in three sets, 7-6 (4), 2-6, 7-5 to advance.

    Bouchard was bumped from the second round of the French a year ago by, you guessed it, Sharapova, and now finds herself just one match away from the final. In her way is a woman at the top of her game who looking for her second French Open title and a third straight trip to the finals.

    It's a battle between the 20-year-old upstart and the woman who has the career Grand Slam in her pocket. Read on to see how these two should fare against each other.

Who Has the Historical Edge?

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    These two don't have much of a history. They played one match in the Miami Masters in 2013, which Sharapova won 6-2, 6-0. That was on a good, old-fashioned American hard court. The game on clay is a different beast altogether. They met in the first round of the Miami Masters, and it proved an easy test for Sharapova.

    Sharapova also bounced Bouchard out of the French Open a year ago in the second round. Sharapova 2, Bouchard 0.

    While their shared history isn't rich in competition, the edge goes to Sharapova entering the semifinals at Roland Garros.

Sharapova at the French Open

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    Darko Vojinovic/Associated Press

    Sharapova has been in an amazing groove at Roland Garros for four years now. She has reached the semifinal in each of the last four years and won her first French Open in 2012. While she's faced her share of scares in the earlier rounds, she has managed to go to the well and pull out the matches.

    Sharapova was resurgent in 2012 after battling shoulder issues and completed the career Grand Slam with a win over Italy's Sara Errani to win the French. Sharapova told ESPN after her win in 2012:

    I could have said, 'I don't need this. I have money, I have fame, I have victories, I have Grand Slams.' But when your love for something is bigger than all those things, you continue to keep getting up in the morning when it's freezing outside, when you know that it can be the most difficult day, when nothing is working, when you feel like the belief sometimes isn't there from the outside world, and you seem so small. But you can achieve great things when you don't listen to all those things.

    Sharapova appears to have found her rhythm on clay, and that's dangerous for all of her opponents.

Bouchard at the French Open

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    Bouchard is in just her second year playing in the French Open. Last year she lost in the second round to Sharapova 2-6, 4-6, but now she finds herself one match away from playing in the finals.

    The problem is the opponent who is standing in her way. Bouchard's upward progression from a year ago is promising and a sign that she could take that giant step and reach the finals. Yet there's Sharapova.

    At 20 years old, Bouchard is short on experience, but that doesn't seem to matter, given how far she's climbed in just a year's time.

The Biggest X-Factors

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    Darko Vojinovic/Associated Press

    It's all about the first set.

    Bouchard is unbeaten in her last nine Grand Slam matches when she wins the first set. She was all out to win the first set in her quarterfinal match after winning 7-6 (4). From there it was 2-6, 7-5.

    Sharapova has proved to be vulnerable in the first set, as she dropped the first in her quarterfinal in a blink, 6-1. She lost her first set against Samantha Stosur in Round 4 as well. That's two matches in a row where the Russian hasn't come out as sharp as she needed to. When Sharapova forces the third set, she mows down her opponent. 

    Something has to give here. Bouchard has shown the ability to gut matches out where she has won early, while Sharapova has proved her ability to bounce back and force the third set.

    There's no time to waste in this match.

Sharapova Will Win the Semifinal If...

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    Darko Vojinovic/Associated Press

    It doesn't seem to matter if Sharapova gets down early in matches. She manages to grind it out and overpower her opponents. Some of that is intimidation; some of that is just pure ability.

    She is one of the strongest players on the tour, generating all kinds of torque and explosion from her 6'2" frame. In the matches she's had the most trouble, she committed many unforced errors. In the fourth round, she committed 30 unforced errors but survived the scare. In the third round, a double-bagel drubbing, she hit just 10 of them. 

    Her worst enemy in this upcoming match will be herself.

    "It was so tough losing in the final last year, being the defending champion," Sharapova said, via CTV News. "This year, to come back, I have the extra motivation to go further, and to be back on (this) stage is a really nice feeling."

Bouchard Will Win the Semifinal If...

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    Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

    Bouchard needs to win the first set. She's won her last nine Grand Slam matches when she's done that. Against an opponent like Sharapova, she'll need every advantage she can muster. She'll also have to silence the inner voices that will, no doubt, crop up since she lost to Sharapova here a year ago.

    Bouchard had an impressive 46 winners in her semifinal match, but she also had 38 unforced errors. That last number will have to come down in order for her to beat the formidable Russian. 

    In Bouchard's two three-set matches, she has a combined 68 unforced errors

    If that number stays below 30 for the match and she wins the first set, this 20-year-old could reach her first Grand Slam final of 2014.

Prediction

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    Michel Spingler/Associated Press

    Sharapova has won both meetings against Bouchard, and given her overall class at Roland Garros, it's hard to pick anyone else but her to advance to the finals out of this match.

    A win would put her in a third straight French Open final and give her a chance to win her second French in three years. For someone who didn't grow up on clay, she has figured it out and continues to prove why she's been one of the best players in the world over the last 10 years.

    Not since she turned pro have the women seen a dominant string of performances at Roland Garros. Justine Henin won four out of five French Opens in the mid-2000s and was the last to win consecutive French Opens. Sharapova could put herself in that conversation if she can get to the finals and win again.

    Bouchard is an upstart at age 20 who has her best tennis ahead of her. She could be an heir to whatever throne Sharapova vacates when her career reaches its end.