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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Match analysis: Sharapova v Dulko

Photo Titled Dulko victorious
Dulko victorious

Maria Sharapova’s second-round match today was just her 15th match since her comeback from a shoulder operation in October. Our first match analysis of The Championships takes an in-depth look at how the former world No.2 performed during her shock defeat to the in-form Argentine Gisela Dulko.

Looking at the 2004 Wimbledon champion’s results since May, when she began her comeback, the three players that have defeated her prior to today have all been highly ranked and consistent performers. She lost to Alona Bondarenko, ranked 33, on clay in Warsaw and to Dominika Cibulkova, ranked 13, at Roland Garros.
Two weeks ago, it was China’s Na Li, ranked 18 in the world, who halted her progress, at the semi-final stage of Birmingham’s grass court event. Today it was the turn of the Argentine ranked 45th in the world.

It is never easy returning to the tour after nine months out of the game, but Sharapova is an exceptional talent, and her game is perfectly designed for grass. She is also a battler, something she proved today ¬ only going down after a strong fight.

In the opening set, Sharapova was under constant pressure and unable to establish a rhythm, particularly on her second serve, as Dulko camped out behind the baseline and used the Russian’s power to counter-attack whenever the opportunity presented itself.

The key to the first set, and eventually the match, was Dulko’s ability to capitalise on Sharapova’s weak second serve

Over the course of the match Dulko made slightly fewer unforced errors (23 to 27) than her opponent. In the end these made the difference, accounting for four of the five points that Dulko needed to swing the match in her favour as the Argentine eventually triumphed by 93 points to Sharapova’s 88.

In each of the three sets, Dulko hit 75% of shots from behind the baseline as she waited for the opportunity to step up the court to pressurise the Russian, who is not the quickest mover in between shots. Sharapova was far more adventurous, getting inside the baseline 52% of the time in the first set and 65% of the time in the second and third sets.

The key to the first set, and eventually the match, was Dulko’s ability to capitalise on Sharapova’s weak second serve, which was rolled in with spin at about 90mph. Her aggressive returns kept the former champion off balance, and for two out of the three sets helped her capture five break points to Sharapova’s four.

Dulko’s quick court coverage along with the accuracy of her groundstrokes prevented the attack-minded Russian from getting into the court at the earliest opportunity to finish off the point. However, in the second set, after going a break down, Sharapova’s rhythm slowly returned and she managed to turn a 3-1 deficit into a 5-3 advantage.

The Russian achieved the turnaround by improving her return rate, winning almost twice as many points on Dulko’s second serve than in the first set, and at the same time slightly improving her own win percentage on her second serve.

Unfortunately for Sharapova the renaissance did not last and in the third set Dulko raised her game and started to mix things up. The Argentine’s drop shot appeared more and more and she made six rushes to the net, all of them successful.

Sharapova did produce glimpses of her A-game but in the end it was not enough although at 5-3 nerves looked to be getting the better of Dulko as Maria rifled in some big forehands and backhands.

But the Argentine eventually kept her cool and after six match points clinched up a fine victory, 6-2, 3-6, 6-4.

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