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Roland Garros • Maria Sharapova Sets Up Pliskova Clash in Paris 2018

Spectators during the French Open tennis tournament at Roland Garros in Paris, France, 2018. EPA-EFE/CAROLINE BLUMBERG

 

 

By Richard Pagliario

 

An extended shriek amplified a screaming forehand strike down the line as Maria Sharapova earned match point with a big bang.

 

Denied a wild card last year, Sharapova is making major noise in her Roland Garros return.

 

The two-time French Open champion fought off a determined Donna Vekic, 7-5, 6-4, roaring into a Roland Garros third-round blockbuster.

 

A ruthless Sharapova won 30 of 47 points played on Vekic’s second serve and broke serve six times scoring her 55th career French Open win in reaching the third round for the first time since 2015.

 

The 28th-seeded Sharapova will square off against 2017 semifinalist Karolina Pliskova in what should be a booming baseline showdown with a spot in the round of 16 on the line.

 

The sixth-seeded Pliskova pumped 13 aces rallying past Czech Fed Cup teammate and former French Open finalist Lucie Safarova, 3-6, 6-4, 6-1, on Court 18.

 

Third-seeded Spaniard Garbine Muguruza converted five of eight break points in a 6-4, 6-3, sweep of 21-year-old French wild card Fiona Ferro.

 

The 2016 champion will face 2010 French Open finalist Samantha Stosur in round three.

 

The Aussie veteran withstood nine double faults in a 6-2, 7-6 (1) victory over 30th-seeded Russian Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. The 34-year-old Stosur advanced to her 10th straight third round in Paris.

 

Drive propelled Sharapova to win No. 55.

 

In her first-round win over qualifier Richel Hogenkamp, Sharapova exuded toughness overcoming a patch of tightness. Staring down break point in the seventh game, she snapped a body serve to save it, holding for 4-3.

 

Sharapova slashed a return winner down the line breaking for 5-3. Vekic gained immediate retribution, banging a backhand return down the line to get back on serve.

 

Seismic shrieking around the bull ring court contrasted with Sharapova’s skill playing small ball.

 

Carving out a sleek drop shot winner, Sharapova earned set point after 47 minutes of play. Confronting the challenge, Vekic fired a forehand down the line to save set point.

 

A stubborn Vekic denied set point and drilled a few winners down the line navigating a tough 16-point game to level, 5-all.

 

That was Vekic’s last stand in the set.

 

Sharapova stormed through a love hold then streaked forward swatting a forehand drive volley for a second set point. When Vekic netted a forehand, the 28th-seeded Russian had a one-set lead.

 

Carrying just 10 career clay-court wins into the match, Vekic stood toe-to-toe with Sharapova at times, but those crackling returns often put Vekic on the defensive. Sharapova stretched the lead in style. In a line-to-line sequence, Sharapova followed a forehand return down the line with a running strike down the opposite sideline breaking for 2-0.

 

A barrage of deep drives earned Vekic for break points in the ensuing game. The 50th-ranked Croatian broke back when Sharapova bungled a forehand swing volley.

 

A third consecutive break put the two-time champion up 3-1.

 

Eager to extend her 19th major appearance, Vekic unloaded heavy forehands then fended off a strong serve snapping off a deep return to break for 4-5.

 

A valiant Vekic fought off four match points.

 

A fine running defensive lob extended the rally then Sharapova exterminated it with a beautiful forehand strike down the line for a fifth match point.

 

Fittingly, a match predicated on the Russian’s return ended with Sharapova slashing a forehand return winner closing in one hour, 47 minutes.

 

The 31-year-old Sharapova swept Pliskova, 6-3, 6-4, in their lone prior meeting on hard court in the 2015 Fed Cup final.

 

The winner of their rematch could face Serena Williams in the fourth round, though the 23-time Grand Slam champion must get past dangerous Aussie Ashleigh Barty in her second-round match.

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