Brain Game: Radwanska Vs Sharapova

Craig O'Shannessy takes a look back at the Mutua Madrid Open semifinal clash between Maria Sharapova and Agnieszka Radwanska, but this time from a statistical perspective...

Published May 10, 2014 12:13

Maria Sharapova's forehand is humming again.

Sharapova defeated Agnieszka Radwanska, 6-1, 6-4, in the semifinals of the Mutua Madrid Open with an awesome display of power tennis, totaling an astonishing 28 winners to four for the match.

Sharapova crushed 11 forehand winners (nine groundstroke/two return) in the two sets, which were the most of any shot on either side of the court.

What was interesting was Sharapova's commitment to hitting run-around forehands in the ad court - a location the Russian would typically settle to hit her more favored backhand groundstroke.

Sharapova's first forehand winner of the match was a clear example of this strategy with Radwanska serving at 1-3, 0-15 in the opening set. Sharapova hit a backhand return, followed by two more crosscourt backhands but ran around the third rally ball and hit a big inside-out winner through the ad court behind Radwanska. SAP advanced analytics showed Sharapova hit the majority (5/9) of her forehand winners for the match standing in the ad court in a clear adjustment to her baseline strategy.

Three points later with Radwanska serving at 1-3, 15-40, Sharapova ran all the way into the alley in the ad court to hit another forehand, once again for a winner inside out through the ad court to race to a 4-1 lead. Run-around forehands offer three advantages to a backhand: an UPGRADE to a more powerful weapon; the ability to DOUBLE the target area as the shot can now be taken with authority down the line as well as crosscourt; and the open stance FREEZES the opponent, offering no anticipation to the ultimate direction it will go.

Sharapova rode the confidence in her forehand to a 6-1, 3-0 lead where everything she touched seemed to turn to gold. At this stage of the match she had won 25 baseline points to only nine for Radwanska. But Radwanska finally relaxed and started attacking more and surprisingly won four straight games to lead 4-3 with a break in the second set. Sharapova would ultimately win 38 baseline points to Radwanska's 24, backing it up at the front of the court winning 87% (7/8) of points finishing at the net.

At 4-3, 30-30 in the second set it was once again Sharapova's run around forehand that did the damage. She ran around a second serve directed at her backhand to thump a forehand return down the line and then ran around the next shot, almost to the alley in the ad court, to destroy a big forehand down the line winner to reach break point.

The renewed confidence Sharapova has in her forehand is highlighted by the fact she backed up her nine groundstroke forehand winners with only eight forehand errors. She also hit five forehand volley winners - all swinging topspin shots hit with a similar technique to her groundstroke.

Sharapova's backhand accounted for eight winners (six groundstroke/two return) but was not nearly as efficient, committing 18 errors (16 groundstroke/two return).

New coach Sven Groeneveld must be pleased with Sharapova's improved form as she also won Stuttgart last month, defeating Radwanska, 6-4, 6-3, in the quarterfinals of that event. There is no doubt his influence is heavily involved in Sharapova's commitment to hit more run-around forehands, which will play a big factor in the Russian's chances in Sunday's final against the in-form Simona Halep.

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.


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