Maria Sharapova could face Simona Halep in the Internazionali BNL d’Italia semifinals after subduing Jelena Ostapenko in Rome

Hannah Wilks in WTA 18 May 2018
  • Maria Sharapova reached the semifinals of the Internazionali BNL d'Italia, where she could face Simona Halep
  • Sharapova defeated reigning French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko 6-7(6), 6-4, 7-5 to reach the semifinals in Rome
  • Watch and bet on tennis live from Rome at bet365 > live streaming > tennis (geo-restrictions apply; funded account required or to have placed a bet in the last 24 hours to qualify) 
Maria Sharapova celebrates victory over Jelena Ostapenko in the quarterfinals of the Internazionali BNL d'Italia (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

Maria Sharapova defeats Jelena Ostapenko to reach the semifinals of the Internazionali BNL d’Italia and could face Simona Halep in Rome.

Watch and bet on tennis live from Rome at bet365 > live streaming > tennis (geo-restrictions apply; funded account required or to have placed a bet in the last 24 hours to qualify) 

In a duel of French Open champions played in the quarterfinals of the last big event before Roland Garros, Maria Sharapova subdued Jelena Ostapenko 6-7(6), 6-4, 7-5 to reach the semifinals of the Internazionali BNL d’Italia and claim her first top-10 victory of 2018.

Sharapova awaits either world no. 1 Simona Halep or seventh seed Caroline Garcia in Saturday’s semifinals after triumphing over Ostapenko in three hours and ten minutes. 

The first set alone took over an hour and featured several swings of momentum as the two French Open champions faced off for the first time. Sharapova elected to receive, which initially looked like a terrible decision as Ostapenko raced to a 40-0 lead, then began to seem like wisdom as the Latvian double-faulted three times (the last to give up break point) and had to save break point before eventually holding serve after two forehand errors from the Russian.

In its swings of momentum, and Ostapenko’s eventual triumph, the 10-minute, 18-point opening game was the first set in miniature. Having worked so hard to hold, Ostapenko went on the offensive and powered her way to a 3-0 lead as she pounded away from the baseline, leaving Sharapova looking overpowered and a bit shellshocked. 

Ostapenko had two chances for a double break and 4-0 lead and saw second serves on both of them, but missed two returns and Sharapova got on the board for the first time – a failure to convert that Ostapenko would ultimately rue, although she remained well in control for the next few games, pummeling Sharapova with the kind of aggressive, powerful shotmaking that the Russian is more used to dealing out than having to absorb. 

The Latvian’s failure to go up a double break was compounded by two set points she failed to convert at 2-5 and Sharapova immediately went on the attack as Ostapenko served for the set at 5-3, dragging her into the net with a drop shot for 0-15 and striking a clean backhand return winner for 0-30. Ostapenko double-faulted to give up three break points and missed a forehand under pressure of Sharapova’s shotmaking, and the Russian was back on serve. 

Sharapova saved a fourth set point on her way to levelling at 5-5 and then broke Ostapenko again after another double fault from the Latvian, but her own serve broke down beneath the pounding blows of Ostapenko’s return and she double-faulted herself on break point.

The first set thus went to a tie break despite both players having served for it and, unsurprisingly, both players struggled to win points behind their own serves during it. Sharapova came up with big serves at 4-5 and 5-5 to give herself set point, but impeccable length on the ball from Ostapenko saw the Latvian save it to level 6-6, then edged ahead with more superb shotmaking from the baseline for 7-6. On her fifth set point, an attacking return by Ostapenko followed by an attacking backhand saw the Latvian take the first set. 

With both players having combined for 13 double faults, it was Ostapenko’s more aggressive serving and shotmaking that made the difference – she was only landing 44% of her first serves, but won 86% of points behind them and out-winnered Sharapova 18 to nine while only hitting six more unforced errors. 

Jelena Ostapenko  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Ostapenko broke as Sharapova served to open the second set as she continued to dazzle with her fearless shotmaking – not to mention some surprisingly effective defense – but the Latvian couldn’t consolidate the break and slowly the match began to turn in favour of Sharapova, game by long grueling game. The Russian started to really figure out how to attack Ostapenko’s second serve, mainly by running around to strike the forehand return, and it began to make a big difference in allowing Sharapova to get on to the front foot, as did the technique of putting a little more spin and height on the cross-court forehand at times and accurately reading and anticipating the Latvian’s backhand down the line. After another exchange of breaks midway through the set, Sharapova pounced as Ostapenko was serving to stay in the set at 4-5, striking with a clean return winner to level at one set all. 

Significantly, Sharapova had hit more winners than her opponent in the second set; equally significantly, if less tangibly, the Russian looked even more energized than she had at the beginning of the match, whereas facing up to the competitive intensity of the three-time Internazionali BNL d’Italia champion seemed to have started to take its toll on the younger woman. Sharapova was also, increasingly, finding her best serving on the bigger points and Ostapenko couldn’t quite follow suit. Sharapova was holding serve from behind, as she did in the third game of the set from 0-30; Ostapenko was struggling on serve despite being ahead, as in the sixth game when, serving at 2-3, she was 40-15 up before being pegged back to deuce and putting consecutive forehands and backhands in the net to be broken. 

Two games from victory, Sharapova was pushed to 30-30 and then to deuce but was increasingly taking the initiative from the baseline and found a big serve and forehand winner to get out of trouble and hold. Serving for the match, though, she could not repeat the trick; Ostapenko got to 30-30 with a big return of serve, and Sharapova double faulted for the ninth time in the match to give up break point which the Latvian duly converted to get back on serve.

Ostapenko’s service game at 4-5 was another mini-epic as she was once more pegged back from 40-15 to deuce before a great cross-court backhand from Sharapova forced the Latvian into an awkward split and a wild backhand error, leading to the first match point for the Russian. The next three points for Sharapova were the potted rollercoaster of supremely aggressive returning – an unforced error, a return winner, an unforced error, the two errors giving away match points – and Ostapenko threw down a service winner to hold for 5-5. But it was her last defiance. Despite a tenth double fault for the match to deuce as she served at 5-5, Sharapova held to put herself one game from the win and this time there was no mistake on her aggressive returning. She earned two more match points and converted the first with a backhand winner down the line – the 32nd winner of a three-hour, 10-minute epic.

It was Sharapova’s first win over a top-10 opponent since beating Simona Halep in the first round of the US Open last August, and puts the Russian into her first semifinal since the Shenzhen Open in the first week of the 2018 season. The victory could also set up a rematch with Halep, with the Romanian facing off with Caroline Garcia later in the day to see who would take the last remaining spot in the semifinals.

Sharapova will have to recover quickly from the intense marathon against Ostapenko, having already played three-set matches against Ashleigh Barty and Dominika Cibulkova earlier in the week. But whatever aches and pains she might carry with her into Saturday’s Internazionali BNL d’Italia semifinal, the three-time Rome champion will also carry with her the incalculable confidence boost of having faced down and conquered such a tough opponent. The question would have seemed laughable a fortnight ago but after Friday’s performance, it must be asked: Is Maria Sharapova a legitimate contender to once again lift the trophy, not just at the Foro Italico, but at Roland Garros?

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Maria Sharapova could face Simona Halep in the Internazionali BNL d’Italia semifinals after subduing Jelena Ostapenko in Rome

In an epic encounter that lasted over three hours, Maria Sharapova subdued reigning French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko in a 6-7(4), 6-4, 7-5 duel to return to the semifinals of the Internazionali BNL d’Italia

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