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joyful rogger fedder

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Sharapova shocked in second round defeat

Photo Titled Sharapova smash
Maria Sharapova fights back against Gisela Dulko during their match on Centre Court.

Gisela Dulko outlasted Maria Sharapova in a three-set thriller on Centre Court on Wednesday. The Russian battled back from a set down and saved four match points in the final game with a stunning array of audacious shots, but Dulko remained calm to best her storied opponent and set up a third-round clash with No. 10 seed Nadia Petrova.

Despite Sharapova being a former Wimbledon champion (the second youngest in the Open era, taking the 2004 title at the age of 17), a two-time semi-finalist and the 24th seed, she began the match ranked 15 places below her opponent – a fact due in no small part to the Russian’s nine-month absence from the courts due to an injury to her right shoulder.

She made her comeback in Warsaw and reached the quarter-finals at Roland Garros, winning four three-setters on the way and also made the last four at Edgbaston prior to arriving in London.

Dulko, meanwhile, has been there or thereabouts since entering the top 50 in 2004, without ever threatening a genuine breakthrough. She defeated Jelena Jankovic at Miami this year, but has only eight wins over top 10 opponents after almost a decade on the circuit.

The Argentine certainly made the better start of the two, holding serve twice either side of an early break to race into a 3-0 lead. Her service was crisp – a high toss before sending the ball straight down the middle from the deuce court or deep into the corner on the advantage side – and Sharapova was a step slow to every ball. Though she settled into a better rhythm, the Russian conceded another break in the eighth game to hand Dulko the opening set.

The Buenos Aires native again pulled three games clear in the second set before losing her radar on service. Sharapova rightly decided to play percentage tennis: Dulko retreated behind the baseline and reduced her approaches to the net, allowing the Russian to vary her depth of shot and move her opponent about the court at will. From 3-0 down, Sharapova rattled off six games in a row to pave the way for a deciding set.

Early breaks were the order of the day, but after both players had settled back into rhythm, Dulko stole Sharapova’s serve, this time to love, in the psychologically crucial seventh game. The 22-year-old Siberian soon found herself facing two match points when Hawk-Eye ruled against her after an ambitious Dulko forehand clipped the outside of the line. But she saved them both, pulling off an ice-cool drop-shot that had the crowd gasping.

A stunning long-line backhand saved a third match point and a fourth also came and went before Hawk-Eye again intervened to give the Argentine a fifth bite at the cherry, and this time there was to be no reprieve. Sharapova sent a simple forehand long and Dulko was through, equalling her best Wimbledon performance to date.

Three-time Grand Slam winner Sharapova will hopefully return fitter and stronger next year, but for a few fleeting moments in the face of adversity, she showed what the women’s game has been missing during her long enforced absence.

Centre Court - Ladies' Singles - 2nd Round
Maria Sharapova RUS (24)264
Gisela Dulko ARG Winner636

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