The contrasting styles on display in the two women’s quarterfinals made for a thrilling day of tennis at the French Open. The score lines of the matches were indicative of the way the respective competitors play. Simona Halep fought for a tough three set victory against Angelique Kerber and Garbine Muguruza blasted Maria Sharapova off the court in a display of hard-hitting power tennis.
Halep vs. Kerber
In a re-match of the Australian Open quarterfinal earlier this year, world number one Simona Halep and former world number one Angelique Kerber met for the eleventh time. Their rivalry previously stood at five wins a piece. Despite a slow start from Halep, she eventually won the match in three tight sets, 6-7 (2-7), 6-3, 6-2. In her press conference Halep commented on the way she played at the beginning of the match saying, “It was a tough start…I wanted to do too much in the match.” Halep’s style as a natural defender and counterpuncher is usually reliable and, when she is playing her best, is almost error free. However, against Kerber, who is a similar player, Halep started by putting extra power on her shots to try and gain an early advantage. This lead to her making many unforced errors and quickly falling behind in the score.
Once Halep settled in to the match, her ability to move on clay was on full display. To Kerber’s credit she did not drop her level drastically, Halep simply overwhelmed her with crafty point construction and impeccable defense. Halep’s mental fortitude was also apparent. The ease with which she changed tactics against Kerber, dialing in her attempts at aggression and relying on her movement and defensive skills to win points, was the most obvious indicator of her comfort on court. She also quickly put her slow start out of mind. Though she lost the first set in a tiebreak, at one point she was down a double break before levelling at five games all. Even in her press conference, Halep was quick to play down that part of the match saying, “I want to forget those games. It was not exactly what I wanted to play.”
The match may not have been as epic as their Australian Open clash, which Halep won 9-7 in the third set, but it was still a thrilling display of athletic tennis.
Muguruza vs. Sharapova
The other quarterfinal of the day ended quickly. Garbine Muguruza dismantled Maria Sharapova in straight sets. Sharapova summed up the dynamic established early in the match, “I think she was the aggressive one…My shots were a lot more forced.” Muguruza and Sharapova are similar players and the outcome of this match was always going to depend on which of the two could force the other to play defensively. From the earliest stages of the match, it was clear Muguruza was in control and she never relinquished her hold.
Muguruza and Sharapova had met in the quarterfinals of the 2014 French Open. Sharapova won that encounter in three sets. Much has changed since then, notably Sharapova’s ban for use of an illegal substance and Muguruza’s two grand slam victories. Muguruza stated that winning grand slams, “adds a lot of confidence” and that she “learned with experience…how to manage these long tournaments better.”
Sharapova, in her comments on the match, seemed to take the disappointing result in her stride, stating that just making the quarterfinals was “on paper…a step in the right direction” since “coming into this part of the year [she] was losing a few first-round matches; matches [she] wanted to be winning.” Even if putting together a string of good wins against quality opponents is a move in the right direction, she will likely be dismayed at the manner of her loss to Muguruza. Muguruza, for her part, will look forward to the semifinals confidence.