One of the most intense off-court feuds in women’s tennis produced one of the season’s best matches when Eugenie Bouchard claimed a gruelling 7-5, 2-6, 6-4 win over Maria Sharapova on Tuesday morning (AEST).
Less than two weeks after Bouchard called Sharapova a “cheater” and said she should be banned from tennis for life for her anti-doping violation, the pair played out their animosities on the clay court in the second round of the Madrid Open.
Maria Sharapova promised to let her tennis do the talking, and the first point of a grudge match against her most outspoken critic certainly made a statement.
Serving to open the match, Sharapova races up to meet a Bouchard lob at the net and fired a full-force shot back directly at the Canadian’s body to lead 15-0.
But it was Bouchard who had the last word, coming back from a set down to dominate the five time Grand Slam winner in a testy contest.
Bouchard said she was looking forward to playing Sharapova, the 2014 Madrid champion, and getting a chance to back up her criticism.
“Obviously, there was a lot going on besides tennis in this match,” she said.
“As soon as I stepped on the court, I really just wanted to make it about tennis. We both did that. We just battled our hearts out.”
Sharapova said she didn’t need extra motivation to play against anybody.
“I’m just one of the two players out on the court,” she said.
“Everything that surrounds myself, I don’t pay attention to much of it. I’ve been part of this game for many years. I know what the drill is.”
While Sharapova was looking to silence her opponent, Bouchard was equally motivated to back up her comments and claimed a hard-fought first set 7-5.
The pair traded big serves and remarkable returns before Sharapova exerted her control from the baseline to take the second set 6-2, thanks largely to two Bouchard double faults.
Sharapova was noticeably annoyed with Bouchard’s lengthy toilet break after the second set, speaking with the umpire and practicing her serve to try and maintain her momentum.
After a sluggish start to the third set, the pair soon upped the intensity with Bouchard holding the second game 1-1 and screaming “come on” directly at Sharapova while fist pumping the air.
A gruelling three games followed that saw both players forced to sweat for every point.
Sharapova held eight break to lead 3-2 before Bouchard finally got the break at 4-3.
Sharapova conceded four unforced errors in the ninth game of the third set and Bouchard served out the two hours, 51 minutes.
— Ilya Ryvlin (@ryvlin) May 8, 2017
The pair shared a brief and awkward handshake across the net at the end of the match, with Sharapova telling Bouchard “well played”.
“I definitely had some extra motivation going into today,” Bouchard said.
“I was actually quite inspired before the match because I had a lot of players coming up to me privately wishing me good luck, players I don’t normally speak to, getting a lot of texts from people in the tennis world that were just rooting for me.
“… It showed me that most people have my opinion, and they were just maybe scared to speak out.”
Sharapova made her return to tennis after a 15-month ban with a wild card at last month’s Stuttgart Open.
While several of her rivals questioned her invitation, none were more critical than Bouchard, who publicly called her a “cheater”.
“She’s a cheater and … I don’t think a cheater in any sport should be allowed to play that sport again,” she said.
“It’s so unfair to all the other players who do it the right way and are true. I think from the WTA it sends the wrong message to young kids: ‘cheat and we’ll welcome you back with open arms’.
“I don’t think that’s right and (Sharapova is) definitely not someone I can say I look up to anymore.”
Sharapova has consistently declined to reply to Bouchard’s stinging comments.