STUTTGART, Germany - Kristina Mladenovic turned around a set and a break deficit to end Maria Sharapova’s run in Stuttgart and reach her third final of the year at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix, 3-6, 7-5, 6-4.
“I just fought and I hung in there,” Mladenovic said in her post-match press conference. “It was not easy - such an important match, such an important stage, to go to the final of a big event and playing that kind of dramatic match, being down a set and a break, not playing my best tennis at all, struggling to find a rhythm, fighting with myself to just be there and play well and eventually I got the solution, got the win.
“It was a huge fight, mental fight overall. You have some days like this where you just need to be a little bit better somehow and win the match.
“It’s also the magic of this sport. Everything cannot be very easy and nice and you have to fight through this.”
Sharapova started off the match in the same imperious form she’s showed all tournament long, reaching the semifinals without dropping a set. Her return game was firing, piling on the pressure and bringing up a handful of break chances early on.
Mladenovic had no answer for the Russian’s powerful serve – Sharapova lost just four points on serve in the first set and didn’t face a break point– and couldn’t keep pace with her at the baseline. Sharapova grabbed a decisive break at 3-1 to take the opening set, then started off the second with a 2-0 lead.
But Mladenovic refused to fade away and hit back right away, finally breaking through the rock-solid Sharapova serve to level the match at 2-2. She took advantage of a dip in Sharapova’s level, punishing a couple of short balls as the double faults began to creep into the Russian’s service games.
“It was very difficult,” Mladenovic explained. “I was just trying somehow to read that serve, to return, to play rallies and apparently [the stats] were showing that every time I managed to go in a rally, I would be positive.
“I just tried somehow to read her serve and eventually she had a lower percentage and I managed to build more my points.”
The Frenchwoman was dictating with her forehand as the momentum shifted firmly in her favor, and she came away with the edge in an epic, 11-minute game. After going to deuce five times, Mladenovic batted away three of Sharapova’s break opportunities to find a dropshot and hold serve in commanding style. She broke once more in the final game, coming back from 0-30 down to send the match into a deciding set.
She kept up the rhythm in the third, mixing up her shots with slices and spin to keep Sharapova on the defensive. Mladenovic grabbed a late break and marched ahead to 5-2, but the Russian found a second wind to break back as Mladenovic was serving for the match, getting to games back to narrow the gap.
But Mladenovic took the match at the second time of asking, breaking Sharapova a final time to stop her run and reach her third final of the year.
“I would have love to use more of the opportunities when I was up a set and a break and I think I lost like 12 out of the next 14 points,” Sharapova reflected afterwards.
“I definitely had a bit of a let-down and I think that allowed her to get back in the match and gain confidence and start competing again. I just didn't keep putting that pressure on her, and I think when you are able to give that to a player that’s played very well this year, it can become dangerous.”
Mladenovic will take on last year’s finalist Laura Siegemund for a shot at the Stuttgart title after the German took down Simona Halep later in the day.