PARIS, France -- Two-time French Open champion Maria Sharapova of Russia got her 2018 campaign in Paris off to a rip-roaring start when she overcame Dutch qualifier Richel Hogenkamp, 6-1, 4-6, 6-3, in a fascinating first-round thriller at Roland Garros on Tuesday.
The No.28 seed picked up her first match victory at the French Open since 2015 with her difficult win over Hogenkamp. After leading 6-1, 4-3, Sharapova lost the next six games, putting Hogenkamp up 3-0 in the third set. But the former World No.1 reeled off the final six games to ultimately move through to the second round in just under two hours.
"I had a really good start, and I feel like I got very impatient in the second set for not many reasons," Sharapova said in press, after the match. "She was becoming a little bit more consistent, and I think I lost a little bit of pace on my ball, but I finished out six straight games. I think if there is any way to turn that match around, it's that way."
"I think I can be proud of that effort," Sharapova continued, "but I definitely stepped back a little bit, and wasn't as aggressive as I was through that 6-1, 3-1, but overall won the last point."
Sharapova extended her head-to-head record against the World No.133 to 2-0, following a second-round win at Wimbledon in 2015 over the Dutchwoman. The Russian finished the match with 35 winners and 29 unforced errors, and won just over half of points when returning serve.
"No matter the score, I still knew that I produced quite solid tennis in order to get myself in a winning position, and I felt there is no reason that I couldn't get that back," Sharapova concluded.
Sharapova will now face Croatia’s Donna Vekic in the second round. 21-year-old Vekic, ranked World No.50, defeated Kateryna Bondarenko of Ukraine, 6-2, 6-4, in the first round on Monday.
Sharapova got off to a flying start in the encounter. The Russian reached break point in Hogenkamp’s first service game with a forehand service return winner down the line, and broke the Dutchwoman at love behind another strong service return, for a 2-0 lead. Sharapova held for 3-0 with an ace on game point, and the Russian was off to the races.
Hogenkamp got on the board for 3-1 with a solid service delivery, briefly pausing the torrent of games going Sharapova’s way. But the Russian was undeterred in her quest for the one-set lead, and broke Hogenkamp for a second time to take a 5-1 lead, due to a flurry of unforced errors by the 26-year-old Dutch player.
Serving for the set, Sharapova started with a double fault, but recovered in the game, reaching set point with an ace. There, another strong serve was returned into the net, and Sharapova claimed the opening frame. It was a dominant set for Sharapova, who won 81 percent of points on her first serve, and, at this juncture, the seeded player looked unbeatable.
Sharapova started the second set with a bang as well. In the first game, the former World No.1 hit a lovely backhand drop shot to reach break point, which she converted to immediately go up a break. The Russian continued to hold the lead after a breezy service game to lead 3-1.
Suddenly, however, the tables began to turn. Hogenkamp reached her first break point of the match with Sharapova serving up 3-2, and the Russian hit a forehand miscue wide to allow Hogenkamp to even the set at 3-3. Sharapova once again went up a break at 4-3, but the errors by the 28th seed were multiplying, and a double fault while down break point in the next game put the set back at level pegging at 4-4.
Hogenkamp garnered massive confidence from the fightback, and held easily for 5-4, putting pressure on Sharapova to serve to stay in the set. And, indeed, Sharapova continued to struggle. A long backhand unforced error gave Hogenkamp set point, and after another Sharapova backhand mistake, this time into the net, Hogenkamp had squared the match at one set apiece after only 66 minutes of play.
Hogenkamp clutched the momentum following her second-set comeback, and, after claiming the final three games of the second set, she grasped the first three games of the decider. At 1-0, a stirring overhead set up break point, and the Dutchwoman converted it with a backhand winner. After the break for 2-0 was succeeded by a routine service hold, Hogenkamp was within sight of a huge win.
But Sharapova’s vaunted mental toughness finally reared its head in the latter stages of the match. After a hold for 3-1, Sharapova took advantage of a Hogenkamp double fault and a forehand error to get back on serve at 3-2. The Russian then staved off two break points in the next game, powering groundstrokes through the stellar defense of Hogenkamp and clawing to 3-3.
Hogenkamp failed to rebound from having those opportunities erased, and after fending off three break points in the next game, the Dutchwoman dropped serve on the fourth break point when Sharapova forced an error via a brutal forehand. For the first time in the decider, Sharapova had a lead, serving up 4-3.
The 2012 and 2014 French Open titlist would race home from there. Following a hold for 5-3, Sharapova reached match point on Hogenkamp’s serve after a strong backhand forced a wide error by the Dutch player. A Hogenkamp rally forehand went into the net on the next point, and a feisty Sharapova closed out her sixth game in a row to march into round two.
More to follow...