On a day of high-profile carnage at The Championships, qualifier Michelle Larcher De Brito pulled off one of the biggest upsets of all, defeating 2004 champion Maria Sharapova 6-3, 6-4 in a drama-filled match.
“I'm really excited. I really can't believe it. It's a little bit of shock and excitement,” said Larcher De Brito.
“I'm just really happy I got through that match. It was a really great win for me.”
Many expected that the only area the world No.131 Larcher De Brito could match four-time Grand Slam tournament winner Sharapova would be in the shrieking stakes. What wasn't expected was that she would also go stroke for stroke with Sharapova.
Standing just 165 cm (5ft 5in), Larcher De Brito packs more power into her frame than perhaps any other player in the women's game. Contesting the main draw at The Championships for just the third time, Larcher De Brito refused to allow Sharapova to dictate to her from the baseline as per her usual modus operandi.
Sharapova struggled for much of the match to find her rhythm while Larcher De Brito grew in stature as the match progressed.
"I give her a lot of credit. I think she played extremely well today,” said Sharapova after the match. “She was really solid from the baseline. I don't feel like I was aggressive enough, that I hit the ball deep enough. I wasn't ready after the returns or the serves. She's someone that plays extremely aggressive. I just wasn't there.”
Larcher De Brito's relentless attack paid off in the fourth game when some big hitting coupled with some errors from Sharapova were rewarded with a crucial break.
The pair traded breaks late in the first set much to the 2004 champion's frustration, which only grew when her young opponent closed the set out 6-3 in 35 minutes.
Two falls near the baseline during the first set also seemed to be playing on the Russian's mind. And in light of the number of injuries sustained around the Grounds today, there was genuine concern among spectators that either one of the players could join that unfortunate group.
For Sharapova any hope of re-focusing and turning the tables flew out the window as Larcher De Brito continued to attack her more credentialled opponent in the second set.
Giving up another break with a double fault was not part of the plan for Sharapova and it only served to grow the 20-year-old's confidence.
Mid-way through the second set Sharapova slipped for the third time and appeared to injure her left hip. A brief inspection of the area in question and conversation with the umpire did little to console the third seed who later said she may have "strained" the muscle but didn't want to use the court or the falls as an excuse.
"I don't think I've ever fallen three times in a match before in my career, so that was a little strange.
"But that's certainly not an excuse. I think today I've seen a lot of players fall and take a few hits and a few injuries. So I think that's just part of the game, part of what we have to deal with."
At the next change of ends Sharapova called for the trainer before taking a medical time out. This led to a gap of more than nine minutes between points – time enough for Sharapova to re-focus and more than enough time for the relatively inexperienced Larcher De Brito to lose her nerve and overthink the situation.
As it turned out, the 20-year-old handled the situation with aplomb, holding serve to move within four points of the third-round – her best result at The Championships to date.
“I just tried to stay as focused as possible. I hit more serves, tried to stay pumped up, tried to stay focused and concentrate,” said Larcher De Brito.
In a cruel twist of fate for Sharapova, she played perhaps her best tennis in the final game, first forcing it to deuce before saving four match points. Neither player took a backwards step as each hit for the lines with startling accuracy.
Sharapova had two chances to break and stay in the match but she was unable to convert either. For Larcher De Brito, it was fifth time lucky as a missed forehand sealed Sharapova’s fate.
“That was really nerve wracking. I just try to stay calm. I just gave it my all. It was 5-4. If I would have lost, it would have been 5-5. If it would have been 5-5, it would have been tough to get back up again because she was serving and she was serving really well.”
“I kind of thought, ‘Now or never.’ I tried to stay calm, even though it's hard sometimes. I just gave it my all, like I always do, and it turned out good.”
This loss marks just the third time Sharapova has fallen to a player ranked outside the top 100 at a major.
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