The start of the second set is often times the most important part of any three set match.
In the space of a few minutes Sharapova changed the energy and momentum of the encounter and quickly put behind an erratic set that included three winners and 22 errors.
Things turned around in the opening game of the second set for the Russian as she relaxed, hit out and dictated with more aggressive groundstrokes. The second set offered a new beginning and a big backhand down the line winner helped get to 30-30 and a crushing forehand winner at the end of a 16-shot rally gained her first break point opportunity of the match.
It only took a few points and she already looked like a different player. Sharapova seized the moment with another backhand winner down the line and the horror of the opening set was soon becoming a distant memory.
Attack Wide To The Forehand
When Sharapova's coach, Sven Groeneveld, came to the court with Sharapova down 0-3 in the first set he focused the discussion on her energy, ball speed and embracing the battle and finished the talk with "attack the forehand corner like crazy."
Once Sharapova settled down in the second set that's exactly where the Russian directed most of the traffic. Halep finished with 20 forehand errors for the match and 18 of the 20 were all deep and wide in the deuce court corner. Sharapova peppered that area of the court with backhands down the line and sharp angle cross court forehands that pulled the ball wide out of Halep's strike zone.
Sharapova fell behind 15-40 in her next service game at 1-0 but got back to deuce when Halep missed a forehand going down the line. Sharapova saved another break point with a big second serve that produced a backhand return error and reached game point by again forcing a Halep forehand error down the line. Sharapova finally held for a 2-0 lead to consolidate her break by once again taking Halep wide to her forehand where she netted a cross court groundstroke sliding wide into the alley.
Open Up The Backhand
When the rallies shifted to the ad court Sharapova was also looking to pull Halep as wide off the court as possible. Halep's normally solid backhand produced four winners but Sharapova was able to pressure 23 errors - with 21 of them standing closer to the alley than the middle of the court. Sharapova's clever strategy was to go around Halep's strong groundstrokes rather than try to go through them. Halep made 12 or her backhand errors going down the line trying to change directions in the rally and 11 cross court trying to battle against Sharapova's more powerful backhand.
The Russian's favorite shot from the back of the court was a liability at the start of the match, contributing eight errors in the opening set alone. But as her confidence grew so did the accuracy and speed of this weapon, making only six errors and contributing six winners in the second set. When she needed a rock, it was her backhand. In the third it was once again something she could count on, contributing three winners and only making two errors to help her finish the match in commanding fashion.
Sharapova jumped up from No.10 to No.3 on the Road To Singapore leaderboard on the strength of back-to-back clay court victories in Stuttgart and Madrid. The Russian is enjoying an excellent clay court season and is firming as one of the favorites for Roland Garros in a few week's time.
Craig O'Shannessy (@BrainGameTennis) is the leading analyst for wtatennis.com throughout the 2014 season, utilizing SAP Data & Insights to uncover the patterns and percentages that dominate the game. Visit Craig's website at www.braingametennis.com for more expert strategy analysis.