In the past few days it has been Maria Sharapova’s actions off court that have kept her in the headlines. But on day one of The Championships it was time to get down to business.
Sharapova entered her 11th Wimbledon campaign having never fallen in the opening round. Her opponent, 20-year-old Frenchwoman Kristina Mladenovic, was making just her second appearance at the All England Club and was hoping for her first victory. Sadly for Mladenovic it wasn’t to be, Sharapova eventually running away with the match 7-6(5) 6-3.
However, based on Monday's performance, Mladenovic will no doubt command Centre Court billing of her own accord before long.
“I had a really tough first round. I expected it,” Sharapova told reporters after the match. “I knew she would come out playing extremely well. I think she has a good game for the grass courts. She has, as you saw, a very good serve.”
A tight and entertaining opening set failed to yield a single break point opportunity for either player as the pair traded solid ground strokes from the baseline, each searching for a flaw that would provide the clue to victory.
Despite being pitted against the formidable Sharapova, Mladenovic was not overawed. Her serve especially impressive, Mladenovic was also able to match Sharapova’s power game.
Early on Mladenovic was picking Sharapova’s serve, which caused her some anxious moments as the world No.37 turned up the pressure on the third seed. With the scores locked at 5-5, a tense Sharapova got caught up in an argument with the umpire over her decision to award Mladenovic two serves after an incorrect call on a second serve.
The umpire’s decision was correct and Sharapova eventually backed down. With the first set still very much in the balance and the jeers of the crowd ringing in her ears, the exchange threatened to derail Sharapova.
But it’s in situations such as these that Sharapova thrives.
More determined than ever Sharapova closed out the opening set in a tie-break that she led from start to finish.
“It was nice to get that breaker and definitely start the second set off being up 4‑1, still having chances to maybe finish it off a bit easier than it should have been in the second.”
With momentum on her side, Sharapova created several break point opportunities early in the second set. It took some handy serving from Mladenovic to keep the set on serve. But cracks were forming in the Frenchwoman’s game.
Sadly for Mladenovic, while her serve was one of the features of her game, seven double faults did not help her cause. Especially when Sharapova didn’t offer up one.
Finally Sharapova got the break she had been chasing all match in the fourth game. It would prove to be Sharapova’s only break of the match from eight opportunities, a rare low conversion rate from the Russian.
Mladenovic continued to fight but Sharapova had not only found her rhythm, she was conducting the match to her own tune.
“I'm really happy with the way I came out and played my first match. The first ones are always pretty tough, especially on the grass.”
The victory sets up a second-round match with Michelle Larcher De Brito, which will be the pair’s first meeting.
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