The chaos continued in the Wimbledon women's draw Tuesday as No. 9 seed Angelique Kerber upset No. 5 seed Maria Sharapova 7-6(4), 4-6, 6-4 in a three-set thriller to advance to the quarterfinals at the All England Club.
Sharapova and Kerber's contrasting styles made for one of the best women's tennis matches in recent memory. When push came to shove, though, Kerber made fewer mistakes and earned the win.
It was hard not to be impressed by the effort exerted by Sharapova and Kerber from start to finish. Among those who applauded the match was peer Kirsten Flipkens:
As pointed out by Ben Rothenberg of The New York Times, Kerber's surprising win creates a big opportunity for a first-time Grand Slam winner to emerge:
Despite her status as a No. 9 seed, Kerber was well aware of the fact that she was the underdog heading into the match. With Sharapova installed as the tournament favorite, Kerber intended to play loose and go for broke, per WTATennis.com.
"I think it will be a nice match," Kerber said. "I have nothing to lose. I will go out there, try to enjoy the match and try to just focus on myself and how I'm playing. I need to play at a high level to beat her."
That is precisely what Kerber was able to do at the start of the match as she immediately jumped out to a lead. Sharapova's struggles on serve have plagued her all year. She has found various ways to work around that shortcoming, but it put her at an early disadvantage Tuesday.
Sharapova conceded the first game of the match with a double fault and Kerber proceeded to consolidate with a hold. Sharapova managed to get on the board with a hold of serve in the third game, but Kerber held once again as well to make it 3-1.
The reigning French Open champion was plagued by unforced errors in the early going, particularly from her forehand side, according to SI Tennis:
Sharapova seemed to settle in after a rocky start, as she and Kerber proceeded to exchange holds. After allowing Kerber to seize a 4-2 lead, the Russian superstar held confidently at love and seemed to be showing some true signs of life.
Kerber once again held steady, though, and prevented Sharapova from earning her first break of the match. With a 5-3 deficit staring her in the face, the pressure shifted toward Sharapova to hold. She did precisely that to make it 5-4 in favor of Kerber.
With Kerber matching Sharapova game for game, she seemed well on her way to taking the first set. Kerber wasn't intimidated by the five-time Grand Slam winner across from her, which impressed many, including ESPN's Brad Gilbert:
As arguably the mentally toughest player in women's tennis, though, it came as little surprise that Sharapova was able to mount a comeback. Sharapova's first break of the match was a timely one, as she tied things up and extended the first set. She then held to put Kerber on the brink of going down in the match.
Kerber was able to pull out a hold, however, which led to a huge tiebreak to decide the opening set. The momentum appeared to be firmly in Sharapova's favor, but the pesky German refused to concede the advantage.
Sharapova seemingly had things in hand at 3-1 in the tiebreaker, but some sloppy play allowed Kerber to get back into it. With the tiebreak even at 4-4, Sharapova proceeded to close with three consecutive unforced errors, giving Kerber the set.
As pointed out by Carole Bouchard of L'Equipe, Sharapova essentially threw the set away with some careless shots:
With 19 unforced errors in the set to just three for Kerber, Sharapova had nobody to blame but herself for the deficit.
Losing the first set obviously isn't an ideal situation for any tennis player, but it isn't a foreign concept for Sharapova. She came back from a set down on several occasions en route to her title at Roland Garros and has become something of an expert at come-from-behind victories, per Live Tennis:
Sharapova looked as though she managed to flip the switch immediately, as she broke Kerber to start the second set. Unlike some of Sharapova's recent matches, her opponent offered some resistance. Kerber broke back immediately and then battled through a service game that featured four deuces as she took a 2-1 lead.
With Kerber making big-time shots and forcing Sharapova into poor decisions, ESPN.com's Steve Tignor lauded the underdog's all-around performance:
Sharapova took a 40-0 lead during her ensuing service game, but she gave it all back as Kerber forced deuce. Sharapova was able to dig deep and score a pivotal hold, though, as she took two straight points to stave off Kerber's hopes of a break.
Despite Sharapova's status as a former Wimbledon champion, her recent lack of success at the All England Club suggested the odds were stacked against her in a big way after dropping the first set and battling through the early part of the second:
Kerber and Sharapova traded holds to make it 3-3 as both players scratched and clawed in an effort to gain the upper hand. Kerber was the first one to blink with Sharapova scoring a break by virtue of a cracking winner:
Sharapova then managed to supplement that with an all-important break to pull to within one game of evening the match. Kerber held with ease, though, which put the onus on the favorite to force a decisive third set on serve.
Sharapova came through, and all signs pointed toward her gutting out yet another three-set win, according to ESPN Tennis:
Rather than wilting, Kerber showed her mettle and forced Sharapova's back against the wall in the third. After holding serve to start the set, Kerber managed a break of Sharapova's serve and followed that up with yet another hold to race out to a 3-0 lead.
Sharapova finally got on the board with a hold, but Kerber answered right back to make it 4-1. Sharapova then held once again and seemed to be on the verge of turning the tide back in her favor. She manufactured a couple break-point opportunities against Kerber, but unforced errors did her in yet again:
Things looked quite bleak for Sharapova trailing 5-2 in the third, but her penchant for metaphorically coming back from the dead in matches surely kept tennis fans interested.
Sharapova was on the brink of elimination as Kerber earned a match-point opportunity. Sharapova was able to stay alive by the skin of her teeth, though, with a shot that barely stayed on the court:
That clutch shot spurred Sharapova to a hold and gave her a chance to really make things interesting with a potential break. Just as she so often does, she came through in a big moment as she broke Kerber despite the German underdog's greatest efforts:
Sharapova once again found herself in trouble during the next game as she fell behind 40-0 on serve. Yet the steely champion continued to defy the odds, as she staved off three consecutive match points to force deuce, according to Tennis.com:
The back-and-forth battle continued throughout the game with Sharapova turning aside six set points. She even earned a pair of game points, which Kerber fought off as well. Unfortunately for Sharapova, she played with fire one too many times as Kerber finally converted her seventh match point to pull off the upset.
With Sharapova's loss, the women's draw at Wimbledon is wide open yet again. Nobody expected a final between Marion Bartoli and Sabine Lisicki last year, but all signs point toward something similarly unexpected happening in 2014.
Sharapova and Serena Williams are now out of the picture, which means anyone remaining can legitimately win this tournament. The de facto favorite may be Petra Kvitova since she is a former Wimbledon champion, but Kerber may have something to say about that.
Kerber will take on a rising star in the form of Canada's Eugenie Bouchard in the quarterfinals. The victor will face the winner of a match between French Open runner-up Simona Halep and defending Wimbledon runner-up Lisicki.
The bottom part of the draw is stacked with three Czechs, and there is no question Kvitova stands out among them. Although the women's draw may now be lacking in star power, the complete uncertainty of it will make for a thrilling conclusion to the tourney.
As for Sharapova, this represents the latest in a long line of failures at the All England Club. Since winning the title in 2004, Sharapova has struggled to regain that form. This marks the seventh time in eight years that she has failed to advance past the fourth round at Wimbledon.
Sharapova may come to lament this loss especially since the draw was wide open with no Serena in sight.
Despite the loss, Sharapova deserves full marks for battling until the bitter end. That is normally enough for her to advance, but Kerber was able to answer more often than not and deserved the victory.
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