World No. 2 Maria Sharapova was on her way to a regulation win against her Russian compatriot Alexandra Panova. The qualifier, who had entered the tournament without a grand slam match win to her name, had just been dispatched 6-1 in the opening set by the five-time major winner. It had taken just 26 minutes. Roger Federer – next up on court – would have been forgiven for expecting action within the hour.
And then without warning, the flow of the match changed dramatically.
Federer’s estimated time of arrival was quickly pushed back, as Sharapova capitulated. Dropping the second set 6-2, and facing a 4-1 deficit in the third, the 2008 Australian Open winner was on the precipice of an early departure from this year’s tournament.
Panova, 25, kept on getting the ball back, and Sharapova kept on making unforced errors, 43 across the second and third sets.
In all four of the service games Sharapova lost during the match she committed a double-fault, including twice in the second set when facing a break point.
Twice staring down match points at 5-3 in the third, what had been a passive display to that point suddenly turned aggressive, as she at last took advantage of Panova’s tame second serve.
Two thundering forehand winners sandwiched an equally telling backhand drive. The “on” button was finally activated, and Sharapova again showed her Tarzan-like fighting qualities, which belie her well-documented Jane-like appearance.
“I think my thought process through the match until that point was pretty negative,” Sharapova said after the match.
“I was dwelling too much on my mistakes and what I was doing wrong.
“I was thinking about it too much instead of just being in the present, saying, Hey, go up to the line; do what you do; do what you’ve done thousands of times. I’m good at that and I’ll continue to be good at that. But some days are just a little off. Today was one of them.”
The change in fortunes stemmed from an altered mindset. Once the second match point had been saved, Sharapova ran away with proceedings. She served two aces in the 12th game of the match, and dropped just three further points on her way to a 7-5 victory in the decider.
“I just really tried to take it a point at a time and think positively.”
Sharapova conceded after the match that she had known little about her 150th-ranked opponent before their clash. She now has 152 minutes of data to call upon if she ever faces her again.
Even once the women’s second seed was done, the surprises didn’t end.
Federer, the second-seeded man, dropped the opening set of his match against Italian journeyman Simeone Bolelli. That he then received medical attention for a finger ailment gave cause for those watching to believe that he, too, would have to work overtime for the win. Those fears were soon allayed, however, with the 17-time grand slam champion careering away to win 3-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 in a little over two hours.
Neither the 33-year-old, nor the physio who checked, could quite put their finger on what had been causing his finger trouble.
“It’s the weirdest thing, it just felt really odd.”
“I feel like it’s numb and swollen.”
He didn’t seem too concerned though, guessing that perhaps it was a bee sting or something similar.