Muguruza didn't back down against Serena Williams during her shocking straight-sets upset of the No. 1 seed in the second round. She showed a level of aggressiveness against the top-ranked women's player that few players have been able to match in recent years.
So it didn't come as a surprise that she came out with a similar strategy against Sharapova. The 20-year-old Spanish rising star knows what sets the best players apart is their power. In turn, she's been able to advance by going on the offensive.
The added pressure that comes with walking onto the quarterfinal stage didn't change her approach. She raced out to a 4-0 lead by hitting some precision winners and forcing Sharapova into mistakes. It was yet another terrific display of tennis.
Perhaps her free-flowing approach should be expected by this point. The tournament's official site passed along comments before the match, and her mindset was wise beyond her years:
I have nothing to lose and everything to gain, so I'll try to enjoy it as much as I can. I'm going to rise to the challenge. I'll walk onto court with the mindset that will allow me to win, as I always do for all my matches.
Sharapova was finally able to get on the board in the fifth game, but it was clear she was rattled. Shots she would normally make with ease went flying long and wide.
Muguruza proceeded to win the next two games to close out the opening set, 6-1. She converted three of five break opportunities while Sharapova earned just once chance. The Russian fan favorite also had 13 unforced errors in the set.
Adnan Virk of ESPN noted that Sharapova was off her game in the first set:
Sharapova a mess. Drops first set in 27 minutes 6-1 #FrenchOpen— Adnan Virk, ESPN (@adnanESPN) June 3, 2014
At least some of the credit for those struggles belongs to Muguruza, as ESPN's Brad Gilbert pointed out:
What a very impressive 1st set from Muguruza as she took it to Shazza from the 1st ball, now con she keep it up and win this match— Brad Gilbert (@bgtennisnation) June 3, 2014
Sharapova, who also dropped the first set in her fourth-round victory over Sam Stosur, started showing signs of life in the second. She grabbed an early break and had a chance to take complete control of the set with a couple looks on Muguruza's serve to make it 4-1.
She couldn't convert, and the upstart contender was able to remain within striking distance. Douglas Robson of USA Today noted the key hold:
Sharapova settling in, more depth, but misses chance to go up double break. Muguruza staves off two BPs, important hold. 3-2. #RG14— Douglas Robson (@dougrobson) June 3, 2014
Poor serving by Sharapova allowed Muguruza to break back to level the set at 3-3.
After trading holds, the four-time Grand Slam champion was able to grab the lead again with a timely break to give herself a chance to serve out the set.
Muguruza put up a fight in an attempt to force a tiebreak, fending off a couple set points. But Sharapova was eventually able to finish off the second set at 7-5.
After letting the second set slip away, Eleanor Crooks of the Press Association asked the question on most fans' minds regarding Muguruza:
Has Muguruza missed her chance? Sharapova's won her last eight three-set matches. Not at her best today, though— Eleanor Crooks (@EleanorcrooksPA) June 3, 2014
In the deciding set, it was once again Sharapova who was able to secure a quick break. But this time she was able to build on it.
Muguruza had a couple looks to get the set back on serve at 2-2 before Sharapova held. The favorite then secured another break in the very next game, turning what could have been a level set into a 4-1 advantage, and she never looked back.
Howard Bryant of ESPN noted a shift in strategy helped the Russian take control:
Who thought Sharapova would turn into a pusher? Letting Muguruza's nerves do the work. That massive FH is dropping shorter and shorter— Howard Bryant (@hbryant42) June 3, 2014
Will Sharapova win the French Open title?
Sharapova went on to win the final set 6-1. It wasn't her best performance, but once she stopped taking herself out of games with errors and went more defensive, things turned in her favor. That's the benefit of experience in big matches.
Looking ahead, Sharapova used another escape act to set up a clash with Eugenie Bouchard, who beat Carla Suarez Navarro in the quarters, for a spot in the championship match. She's 2-0 against Bouchard, including a win at Roland Garros last year.
Sharapova assumed the favorite role after Williams and Li Na were eliminated in the early rounds. The biggest key to withstanding two more rounds to capture her second French title is more consistency on serve, an issue that almost led to a quarterfinal exit.