Battling her way out of three set points, Maria Sharapova needed to work overtime on a cool, windy Wednesday at the Sony Open to reach the semifinal with a 7-5, 7-5 victory over the little seventh seed, Italian Sara Errani.
By saving those set points, Sharapova created a record for herself — 20 straight sets won. Never before has she gone 10 matches without dropping a set, and it says much for the confidence that has flooded through her game since she beat this same opponent in the final of the French Open last June that the tall Russian was able to hit her way out of trouble with three big winners.
“I want to play aggressive,” said Sharapova. “That’s my game. I mean, I want to take my chances. I don’t want to be waiting for my opponent to make mistakes. I felt I had to start doing that, because I didn’t feel like I had much pace to start with. I wasn’t hitting the ball, not stepping in. So on those set points, I guess I buckled down and made those good shots.”
They came in the 10th game of the second set and all three left Errani standing. On the first, Sharapova conjured up an acute angle off her backhand and watched it clip the sideline. Then, a big forehand winner saved the second. A forehand into an empty court after drawing the Italian wide took care of the third.
Obviously Sharapova was happy with the way she extracted herself from the mini-crisis, but she was still cross with herself.
“It’s great I got myself out of it, but I don’t feel like I should have been in that position,” she said. "I was up a break. I had my chances. I felt I made things much more difficult than they should have been.”
It was no surprise that most of the problems Sharapova created for herself came from double faults — 14 in all, most of them in the first set. They might seem like gifts to an opponent, but Errani looked at the other side of the coin.
“Sure, she double faults sometimes, but that is because she hits such a flat second serve,” she said. “It comes at 90 mph, which is very difficult to return. So she wins many points by risking a double fault. But I played OK. I did my best. But like the other times, it was not good enough.”
Apart from the final at Roland Garros, Errani has lost in straight sets to the world No. 2 at the WTA Championships in Istanbul as well as Indian Wells 10 days ago. Yet the 25-year-old from Bologna has shot up the rankings in the last 12 months and, having won the title in Acapulco and reached the final of the Paris Indoors in February, now is established in the world’s top 10.
“She makes you work,” said Sharapova. “She doesn’t have the height, doesn’t have the power, but her ability to get so many balls back with so much variety over and over again makes it extremely difficult.”
The other women’s quarterfinal took just as long to reach a conclusion. Former world No. 1 Jelena Jankovic eventually prevailed over Roberta Vinci 6-4, 6-7, 6-3, also in 2 hours 30 mins, which made it a bad day for the Errani-Vinci partnership that makes up one of the best doubles teams in the world. But at least the Italians have reached the semifinals in doubles.
In men’s singles, No. 3 seed David Ferrer recovered from losing the first set to the Austrian left hander Jurgen Melzer to reached the semifinal with a 4-6, 6-3, 6-0 win. Following a trend we are seeing in the men’s game now, this was a clash between more senior players — Ferrer, is 30 years old and Melzer 31.
Physically, Ferrer can handle most things on a tennis court. The muscular Spaniard is known primarily has a clay court specialist but he has proved himself on other surfaces, too, especially here on the hard courts at Key Biscayne, where he was a semifinalist in 2005 and 2006. Once Melzer ran out of steam after a hard-fought first set, Ferrer’s relentless ground strokes took over.
Tommy Haas, who upset world No. 1 Novak Djokovic in such sensational style on Tuesday night, moved swiftly into the semifinal by outplaying the Gilles Simon 6-3, 6-1. Haas, who will turn 35 next week, looked far too sprightly for Simon, who is almost seven years younger.
Simon, normally a smooth baseliner, could not reproduce the form that enabled him to beat No. 7 seed Janko Tipsarevic on Tuesday and gave Haas an unexpectedly easy passage into the last four — a win that made him the first German to reach semifinal in the tournament’s history.