MADRID, Spain - Maria Sharapova fought past a stern challenge from Kristina Mladenovic to reach her second quarterfinal of the year at the Mutua Madrid Open.
With their head-to-head record tied at one win apiece, Sharapova was focused from the start - with perhaps a bit of revenge on the mind: last year in Stuttgart, Mladenovic put an end to Sharapova’s run at her first tournament back from suspension after a dramatic, three-set clash.
Sharapova was made to work - coming back from a break down in the first set - but the former Madrid champion earned the 6-3, 6-4 victory after a grueling hour and a half to reach her first quarterfinal since January.
WTA Insider Live Blog: Sharapova and Mladenovic showdown in Madrid
“I just felt like I did the right things,” Sharapova told press afterwards. “Despite a slow start, I was still very positive. I still felt like I was doing the right things out there, and continued to do so. I felt like I returned much better than I have been, which makes your life a little bit easier.”
Sharapova needed a few games to find her rhythm, and the Frenchwoman capitalized on the sluggish start by getting ahead to an early break in the first game of the match.
But once Sharapova got going she didn’t look back, dialing up the aggression and reeling off the last five games in a row to take the first set. In fact, Sharapova racked up 30 winners across both sets, despite 20 unforced errors, against Mladenovic’s 12 winners and 18 errors.
The second set was decided by small margins, with just one break of serve making the difference. While Sharapova kept Mladenovic under lots of pressure on serve - she brought up break points in two different games before breaking at 4-3 - Mladenovic wasn’t able to make the same inroads on the Russian’s strong serve. Sharapova was backed up by nine aces, and won 50% of points off her first serve.
Up next, the Russian will play Kiki Bertens, who put on a clay court masterclass to knock out World No.2 Caroline Wozniacki, 6-2, 6-2, earlier in the day.
“I don't know much about her,” Sharapova admitted. “I've seen a few of her matches. I spoke a little bit to Thomas [Hogstedt] as I was doing my cool down just now, a little bit about the match. It's always interesting how you finish one, then it's less than 24 hours you're on to the next one.
“But I'll go home, I'll be doing some treatment. I'll watch a few videos of a few of her matches here, and maybe in the past.
“She's a confidence player as well. I think that's one of the reasons she's been playing so well. Clearly loves the clay. I look forward to that challenge. It's great to be at this stage.”