On days like these, when so little goes right and so much goes awry, Maria Sharapova tosses away the strategies and scouting reports her coach devises and, well, does whatever it takes to win.
Locked in a three set, three hour struggle at a wet and windy French Open on Monday, Sharapova’s right, racket-swinging wrist was aching — and that, she insisted, was the least of her problems.
There was the tumble to her backside that Sharapova could laugh about later. The exasperating line calls and what the second-seeded Russian considered an obstinate chair umpire. The 12 double faults, plus 41 other errors of Sharapova’s own doing. The nine breaks she allowed, including three while serving for the match. The unseeded foe who would not go away.
“It was a good test for me,” Sharapova said.
Certainly the first she has faced at Roland Garros this year. After dropping a total of five games in three matches that averaged less than an hour each, Sharapova moved into the quarter-finals at the only Grand Slam tournament she has not won by dispensing with tactics and swinging away until she finally pulled out a 6-4, 6-7 (5/7), 6-2 victory over 44th-ranked Klara Zakopalova of the Czech Republic.
“I’m useless with game plans. That’s probably the one thing [coach Thomas Hogstedt] just gets so frustrated with me about,” Sharapova said. “I go out there and I do my own thing, and then he’s like, after the match: ‘Really? What’s the point? I mean, what’s the point of having me?’ But I apologized when I hired him, in advance, so he’s OK.”
“It’s good we have a day off tomorrow so we can step it up again,” he said. “This was clearly a match where she was not playing as well as she should.”
Sharapova and Hogstedt both said her wrist, which she repeatedly flexed during the match and fiddled with at her press conference afterward, should not be an issue.
Something else that might not be?
The opposition. It seems that nearly every day a potential roadblock is swept out of the draw, from Serena Williams, to Francesca Schiavone, to Li Na.
Indeed, Sharapova now has one thing in common with every woman left — none has won the French Open.
Her next opponent, No. 23 Kaia Kanepi of Estonia, has not been beyond the quarter-finals at any Grand Slam tournament, but she got to that round for the fourth time by defeating unseeded Arantxa Rus of the Netherlands 6-1, 4-6, 6-0.
Asked whether she thinks she can beat three-time major champion Sharapova, Kanepi replied: “If I play well, of course. Why not?”
Kanepi did not indicate whether that was based on having seen Sharapova’s error-strewn performance against Zakopalova on an afternoon when the temperature dipped and occasional drizzle fell.
Sharapova said she jammed her wrist on a service return “but it should be fine ... Nothing to worry about.”
As for her second-set stumble, Sharapova chuckled and said: “That was my first fall of the clay season, which is the biggest shocker. I usually have a few before the French Open.”
She was less amused by the work of chair umpire Julie Kjendlie of Norway, engaging in a couple of extended arguments about rulings.
“The first one was the most questionable one, I guess, because she couldn’t find the mark ... What do you say to that? You can’t find the mark? I mean, it was like: ‘Well, isn’t that your job?’ ... I mean, we’re on clay courts. Usually when there is no mark, it means it’s on the line,” Sharapova said. “She had an answer for everything out there.”