Sloppy. That is the way Maria Sharapova described her tennis when she returned to No.1 Court on Thursday to resume her second-round match against Tsvetana Pironkova, which was yesterday suspended due to bad light.
The top seed advanced to the third round with a 7-6(3), 6-7(3), 6-0 victory over the world No.38 in 2hr and 23mins and although she demolished the Bulgarian in the final set, she admitted to being shaky when she returned to do battle leading a set and 3-1.
It was perhaps not surprising given the previous day’s events and the calibre of her opponent. Quite simply, Tsvetana Pironkova knows how to conduct herself on the velvety lawns of the All England Club.
A semi-finalist here in 2010, a quarter-finalist a year ago before bowing out to eventual winner Kvitova, the Bulgarian was always going to prove a tricky contender for the Russian. Yet not many would have predicted that she would be the one showing the world No.1 who was boss on the hallowed turf at the start of the match at least.
But when Pironkova set about her business on Wednesday evening she was in devastating form delivering an array of punishing, accurate ground-strokes that pinned the Russian to the back of the court and helped her dart to a 3-0 lead.
Maria was by no means playing badly - producing the equivalent sparkling grass-court tennis that saw her dismantle world No.133 Anastasia Rodionova in 70 minutes in the previous round – but it was her 24-year-old opponent who was commanding the court, powering back deep balls with interest and precision.
“I think if she played on grass 365 days a year she’d be top five probably,” Sharapova said after the match. “Unfortunately it doesn’t work like that. She has the perfect game for it, she always does well against top players, she really rises for the occasion.”
Pironkova’s mastery of grass allowed the Bulgarian to carve out her first set point opportunity on serve at 5-2 but the French Open champion denied her that chance by delivering a blistering forehand.
A further four set points passed Pironkova by – at one stage she had 0-40 on the Russian’s serve – but by then it was too late. Sharapova had clawed her way back into the match, pocketed the set on a tie-break and earned an early break to lead 3-1 in the second before bad light intervened at 9.02pm, halting the day’s play.
When the women returned at 1pm on Thursday in humid conditions to pick up where they left off, the top seed looked sluggish and an error-strewn tie-break peppered with double faults cost the 2004 Wimbledon champion the second set.
“I started with no motor whatsoever, I was just on pause, everything... my feet,” Sharapova said.
“I felt like everything was a little bit slow. I wasn’t moving up to the ball, she hit a few short balls. I made errors, I let her play. I didn’t feel like there was enough pace on my ball... she’s someone that just comes out and just fires and if things go well, they go well.”
Even so, Sharapova managed to banish the so-called sloppiness from her game by the final set. Aggressive play saw her win six games on the trot to claim the match and set up a third-round clash with Su-Wei Hsieh.