MIAMI, FL, USA - It's never easy winning a match after dropping your opening service game to love.
Sharapova served first and things immediately went south for the No.4 seed. She lost the first seven points in a row and was rushed by the power and dominating court position of her Czech opponent.
"I didn't have a good first few games so I was happy that I was steady, that, you know, I kept trying to do the right thing, kept trying to be aggressive," Sharapova said.
Sharapova's wealth of experience helps to problem solve bad starts such as this. "Well, I started getting more chances as we played more games in the first set," she said. "Little by little I started seeing more opportunities and started getting myself back in the points and playing my game, playing well, going inside the baseline."
Kvitova fired an ace down the middle in the ad court to surge ahead 2-0 and then Sharapova won her second service game to love to finally stop the bleeding. It wasn't until trailing 3-2 in the opening set that the momentum started to fall the Russian's way.
Sharapova pushed Kvitova to five deuces in the Czech's service game and even though she didn't break, Sharapova mentally got back into the match and applied pressure for the first time. Kvitova double faulted leading 4-3, 30-15 to open the door for Sharapova and the Russian would pull even at 4-4 two points later with her first break of serve.
A less experienced player could have easily panicked with such a rocky start but Sharapova stayed the course and slowly but surely climbed her way out of the early hole she dug herself.
Things got a little sideways again for Sharapova serving at 5-5 when she made three first shot forehand errors after her serve but the confidence of getting out of that game helped her to break to love to clinch the opening set.
The second set would be "showtime" for Sharapova.
SAP analytics showed Sharapova committed 11 unforced errors (seven forehand/four backhand) from the back of the court in the opening set but dramatically tightened up her game in the second set to only commit one unforced groundstroke error in seven games. That's how you problem solve a tennis match.
Sharapova's second serve was a strength in this match, only yielding four double faults and winning 48% (12/25), which was dramatically better than Kvitova, who only won 28% (5/18) of her second serve points.
Interestingly Sharapova directed all her second serves to the Kvitova forehand while Kvitova targeted the body to take away the early angles. Sharapova also went after Kvitova's forehand in baseline rallies, directing 65% of all shots to the ad court while Kvitova attacked Sharapova's backhand more, hitting 55% of her groundstrokes to the deuce court.
Kvitova ended up with more winners (15 to 8) but Sharapova hit less unforced errors (12 to 17), which resulted primarily from better court position. Sharapova made contact with the ball 24% inside the baseline while Kvitova only had 15% - too far back to consistently hurt Sharapova.
In this big-hitting battle, only six points lasted longer than 10 shots as both players were using the primary weapons of power and time to take away valuable tenths of seconds of their opponent's shot preparation.
Sharapova only hit two backhands crosscourt for the entire match as she continually tried to rush Kvitova's forehand. Kvitova hit 89 forehands and only 35 backhands for the match while Sharapova was more even with 65 forehands and 54 backhands.
Sharapova will now play the winner of the Serena Willams-Angelique Kerber match in the semis, where court position and shot selection will be at a premium if she is to advance to the final.
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.