Maria Sharapova's 3rd-Set Magic Ends in Wimbledon Thriller vs. Angelique Kerber

Lindsay GibbsFeatured ColumnistJuly 1, 2014

LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 01:  Maria Sharapova of Russia during her Ladies' Singles fourth round match against Angelique Kerber of Germany on day eight of the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club on July 1, 2014 in London, England.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
Al Bello/Getty Images

When Serena Williams fell to Alize Cornet on Saturday, most people thought that meant this was Maria Sharapova's Wimbledon to win. Angelique Kerber had other ideas.

The German, who made the semifinals at the Championships in 2012, took out Sharapova in the fourth round Tuesday, 7-6 (4), 4-6, 6-4. Kerber needed seven match points to win the nonstop thriller.

While Sharapova won the French Open three weeks ago by fighting her way through four straight three-setters, she just didn't have enough left Tuesday to thwart an impressively offensive Kerber.

"'It's unbelievable," an ecstatic Kerber told the BBC after her victory, as reported by CNN. "We were playing on a really high level—every single set was so close."

Kerber celebrates.
Kerber celebrates.Ben Curtis/Associated Press

Kerber, who is ranked No. 7 in the world but seeded No. 9 at Wimbledon, has been a steady Top 10 presence over the past two years. The 26-year-old has had a rough year, though, losing all three finals that she's made and falling in her first match in five tournaments. 

But on grass, a surface she loves, Kerber has found her form again. In Eastbourne, England, at the Aegon International, she took out fellow Wimbledon fourth-rounders Cornet, Ekaterina Makarova and Caroline Wozniacki en route to the final, where she fell to American teenager Madison Keys, 19, in a high-quality battle.

Still, she was an underdog coming into this match with Sharapova. With Serena out, Sharapova was the most experienced, accomplished player left in the women's draw. The only other major winner remaining is Petra Kvitova, who beat Sharapova in the 2011 Wimbledon final.

The five-time major champion was in elite form throughout the first week, winning three economical matches without dropping more than three games in any of them.

However, Kerber's foot speed, court coverage and consistency kept the Russian on her toes. It was a back-and-forth match that repeatedly left ESPN broadcaster Cliff Drysdale gasping in awe.

Kerber was up 5-3 in the first set before Sharapova forced a tiebreak. There, Sharapova's usually trusty backhand let her down, and the No. 5 seed surrendered a mini-break to Kerber and quickly found herself down a set.

Sharapova evened things up in the second, but just as it looked like the momentum was with her, Kerber broke first in the third set to gain the advantage. Once Kerber was up 5-2 in the third, Sharapova stepped up her level, playing her best tennis when her back was against the wall. It was go-for-broke tennis of the highest order, impressing legends of all different sports.

Kerber only had 11 unforced errors in the match, while the more aggressive Sharapova had 49. However, the French Open champion won the winner count 57-27. While she wasn't at her best, this was not so much a case of Sharapova falling apart. Rather, Kerber stepped up her game in the big moments to get her first top-five win at a major.

Tim Lewis of The Guardian explained how Kerber's relentless urgency during the match broke down the Russian:

It is easy to underestimate Kerber, who in the second round ground down Heather Watson. She has a simpering second serve and is primarily known for her defensive style. But on Centre Court on Tuesday, Sharapova must have felt as if her opponent was a wall. Kerber believes that every point should be cherished and she ran down every one of Sharapova’s brutal, pulverising ground strokes as if it was match point against her.

With the ridiculously quick turnaround and surface switch, the French Open-Wimbledon double, also known as the Channel Slam, is one of the toughest tests in tennis. No woman has won both majors in the same year since Serena Williams in 2002.

Sharapova talked to the press about the challenge after her third-round victory over American Alison Riske, via ASAP Sports:

[The Channel Slam is] a bit more difficult because you achieve some great success, then you get on the train, come here, and right away the mentality switches that I've got to start from the first round on. You don't get any free points or any byes.

That's always a quick switch that you need to make mentally. Physically you know the physical aspects of the surface, they're much tougher than they were many years ago. That transition has always been quite tough for me. 

This was the 10th anniversary of Sharapova's Wimbledon breakthrough at the age of 17, and with Serena out, it seemed like things were lining up for her to memorably mark the occasion. But in tennis, nothing is a given.

LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 01:  Angelique Kerber of Germany shakes hands with Maria Sharapova of Russia after their Ladies' Singles fourth round match on day eight of the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club on J
Al Bello/Getty Images

Wimbledon is now wide open on the women's side. Along with Sharapova, three of the top four seeds—No. 1 Serena, No. 2 Li Na and No. 4 Agnieszka Radwanska—are out. Simona Halep, who made quite a name for herself pushing Sharapova to the brink in the French Open final, is the highest seed remaining at No. 3.

Former Wimbledon champion Kvitova, fast-rising star Eugenie Bouchard and last year's Wimbledon finalist Sabine Lisicki are all lingering and ready to seize the opportunity. But after her phenomenal shot-making showcase against Sharapova, Kerber should not be overlooked. She is dangerous.

Sharapova should bounce back quickly from this loss—she is currently ranked No. 5 and has no victories to defend for the rest of this year due to her shoulder problems in 2013. For the next five months, she can only go up.

But while the 2014 Wimbledon Championships lost some star power Tuesday, there is plenty of great tennis to look forward to this week. If the quality of the Kerber vs. Sharapova battle is any indication, we are in for a treat.