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Sharapova Fights Off Inspired Teen Garcia

Down 63 41 to French wildcard Caroline Garcia, Maria Sharapova summoned up a champion's spirit.

Published May 26, 2011 12:00

Sharapova Fights Off Inspired Teen Garcia
Maria Sharapova

PARIS, France - Earlier in the day the tournament lost its No.2 seed, and things weren't looking so great for the No.7 seed, but like she has done so many times in the past Maria Sharapova just wouldn't stop believing, rallying back from 63 41 down to overcome an inspired Caroline Garcia, 36 64 60.

On paper, Garcia should have been completely out of her league. Just 17 years old and ranked No.188 in the world, she was playing just her second WTA-level main draw and facing a Top 50 player for the very first time. But instead she came out like a house on fire, blasting winners from every part of the court, painting lines with powerful, topspin shots, forehands and backhands alike.

Sharapova hadn't lost to a player outside the Top 100 in almost three years - that stat was about to be shattered. But that's when the three-time Grand Slam winner conjured up the fighting spirit that took her to those majors.

From 63 41 down, brick by brick, Sharapova started building her comeback, cutting back on the unforced errors and grinding out some hard-hitting rallies with Garcia. Once she caught up to 4-all in the second set it was clear the momentum had shifted, and in the end she won 11 straight games to take it.

"I think I was way too concerned about the conditions and wasn't moving my feet. I was just really slow, and she was playing so aggressively and hitting great shots. I felt really flat-footed in the beginning," Sharapova said after the match. "I think I relaxed and just let things happen. I just hit the ball finally."

Sharapova was asked about the mental toughness it took to come back from such a deficit. "I just never think the match is over until it actually is," the 24-year-old said. "No matter what the situation you're in, no matter how good or bad you feel, you've got to finish the match. I'll never give up out there."

"In the beginning I was focused. I forgot about my opponent and just played," Garcia said. "Maria reacted like a champion, because she is a great champion. I started being very nervous and playing more from the baseline, and it was difficult for me to come back. I really tried, but I just didn't succeed."

Although she didn't end up winning the match, Garcia impressed just about everyone, including ATP World Tour star Andy Murray, who posted a message on Twitter saying she will be No.1 one day. Martina Navratilova agreed.

"I have this dream. It's very difficult, but I hope one day I will be No.1," Garcia said. "I'm happy people like these two say things like that about me, that my future is promising. But I also realize I need to work a lot to get there."

While Garcia is still very green at 17 years, 7 months and 10 days, by that age Sharapova was an established star - she was ranked No.4 with seven WTA titles, including Wimbledon and the WTA Championships back in 2004.

"I was playing on the tour for maybe two or three years then," the Russian commented. "It's not like I came into Wimbledon at 17 and didn't have any big match experience behind my back. But I thought Caroline played really well today for the first set and a half. As the match went on, I felt like her pace went down, especially on her serve. Time will tell, but she's on her way up, definitely."

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