OLD FRIENDS NOW FOES
Semi-final date with Berdych pits Murray against man who knows him best
MARIA SHARAPOVA has a pretty good poker face when she wants to, but even the Russian could not stop a smile creeping across her face after she reached the semi-finals of the Australian Open yesterday.
Not only did the Russian play her best match of the fortnight to crush the challenge of Eugenie Bouchard, 6-3, 6-2, but her path to the final was eased, in theory, after third seed Simona Halep was dumped out by 10th seed Ekaterina Makarova.
Given that she was staring defeat in the face in round two when she saved two match points, Sharapova perhaps feels like she’s playing with house money.
The near-defeat by world No 150 Alexandra Panova prompted a phonecall with Sharapova’s father, Yuri, and the world No 2 said the words hit home.
“In a nice version, it was like: ‘This is unacceptable’. He’s like: ‘It is much easier just having a normal home life. You should try it. I don’t know why you’re suffering out there for nothing. Make it easier for yourself.’
“He told me that I was working much harder than I had to. If I was maybe a little bit smarter, did a few things maybe a little bit differently, maybe it could have been easier.”
Certainly against Bouchard, a semifinalist last year, Sharapova played freely, dominating from the baseline and constantly pushing the Canadian backwards.
It was a stark contrast to their semifinal at last year’s French Open, when Sharapova needed to come from a set down before going on to win the title, beating Halep in the final.
Sharapova must have expected to see the Romanian again in the semi-final in Melbourne but Halep was stunned 6-4, 6-0 by Makarova, who went one better than her run to the last eight 12 months ago.
Makarova continues to go under the radar despite having also reached the last eight at Wimbledon and the US Open semi-finals in 2014.
But though few people outside of the tennis world know her, Sharapova is well aware of the challenge she presents.
“She’s going to come into that match free and almost happy to be in that situation, and that’s dangerous,” Sharapova said.
“I haven’t faced a lefty in this tournament yet. But I’ll be looking out for that, work on a few things and be ready.
“We’ve practised a little bit I think during the Fed Cup, but that was a few years ago. We played already a few times. There’s no secrets in each other’s games, that’s for sure.”
Makarova has never beaten Sharapova, but having been better known as a doubles player for some time she’s found that handy knack of playing her best tennis in the grand slams.