The top-seeded Maria Sharapova's 6-1, 6-4 win over Taipei's Su-Wei Hsieh in the third round of the Ladies' Singles sees her safely into the last 16 of the event with the loss of just one set, but from here on the road will certainly get tougher and rougher and the world No.1 will need to play better than this, particularly when it comes to unforced errors, as she acknowledged later.
The gusting wind on No.1 Court made serving a tricky proposition and, to the delight of the Chinese contingent in the audience, Hsieh twice broke serve in what became a tight second set. Sharapova, with her high ball toss, was clearly bothered by the conditions and it must be a long time since she delivered a serve which bounced before it reached the net. But in the end her high-powered and high decibel game prevailed comfortably enough against an opponent physically outmatched.
Hsieh's option for mix 'n match tennis, dogged defence alternating with spirited counter-attack, only began to have any effect in the second set when Sharapova's accuracy went walkabout. The opening set was one-sided in the extreme after Hseih provoked startled applause by winning not only the brisk opening rally but the opening game too. But someone whose serve was regularly being shown on the speed gun clock at an average of 20mph slower than the Russian's was obviously going to invite punishment, and Sharapova duly swept the next six games, conceding just three points in as many service games, to go a set up in half an hour.
Hsieh's delight at breaking in the first game of the second set was matched by Sharapova's dismay but she had invited problems with a double-fault. The Chinese was unable to build on the lead, nor did she deserve to, her second serves trundling over the net at 68mph, inviting - and receiving - annihilation. But at 2-2 Sharapova ran into a spell of carelessness and a pair of double-faults, which left her swatting her racket in disgust, saw her drop serve and gift the lead to Hsieh, who promptly extended it to 4-2.
That turned out to be the high point for the 26-year-old from Taipei, though at 4-4 another brace of Russian double-faults left Hsieh with a break point which the top seed fought off to win the game. As Hsieh prepared to serve to stay in the match Sharapova briefly delayed proceedings by changing her racket, earning a slow handclap. The change was a profitable one, though Hsieh fought off three match points before succumbing to the fourth after one hour 20 minutes.
Sharapova, by and large, is a player who disdains drop shots and lobs in favour of the howitzer ground strokes. Against Hseih she delivered one drop and two lobs (both of which were out) but it was part of the game plan.
She explained, "I faced [Hsieh] many times in the juniors. She used to be a nightmare for me because she used to slice and drop shot on clay. We used to have real battles, and we haven't played since then. I knew her game really well and she didn't have time to do all of that today on grass. If I'm hitting a hard-paced shot I don't think she has time to create, which is something she likes to do. That's her game, lots of slices and drop shots, get people kind of crazy."
Sharapova was also swift to point out that she is aware of the need to play better. "You have to improve with every match. That's my goal, within these two weeks, to get better as you face more challenging opponents. I'm happy to be in the fourth round but there's always room for improvement."
20:08It brings me no pleasure but it's time to bring the curtain down for another year. Seemed somehow appropriate to leave the last word to Roger Federer. Thanks a billion for reading. What a fortnight, what a final, fast forward to 2015 please...
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