Eugenie Bouchard rolled back the years by producing the best tennis she’s played in almost three years to defeat Maria Sharapova 7-5, 2-6, 6-4 in a near-three-hour thriller at the Caja Magica on Monday night.
The Canadian world No60 claimed her first win in five attempts against Sharapova, who was playing her sixth match since her return from a 15-month doping suspension.
The build-up of the contest saw Bouchard fire strong words at her opponent, saying she was a “cheater” who shouldn’t be allowed back in the sport. The 23-year-old also said she’d have some extra motivation to beat Sharapova, who refused to engage in a war of words.
But the sub-plot created lots of buzz ahead of the clash and the pair did not disappoint as they played one of the best tennis matches we’ve seen all year.
In a tight showdown that witnessed a combined 36 break points, it was Bouchard who played better when it mattered the most.
Bouchard had to save a break point to hold for 1-all. A nervy forehand unforced error from Sharapova saw her face two break points in game five but the Russian survived both, the latter with a massive backhand cross court winner.
A stunning running forehand cross court winner gave Sharapova game point and she held to inch ahead 3-2.
It was Bouchard’s turn to get in trouble and the Canadian found herself down 0-40. Sharapova broke on her second opportunity with a signature forehand return winner to open up a 4-2 gap.
A failed drop shot attempt from Sharapova – her 10th unforced error of the match thus far – saw her face break point the next game. She saved it but Bouchard still broke on her third chance in a nine-minute game to make it 3-4.
Bouchard took three games on the trot to go up a break and serve for the set at 5-4. But Sharapova had other plans and begged her back.
A marathon 12-minute game saw Sharapova get broken as Bouchard once again got the opportunity to serve for the set, this time at 6-5.
An incredible forehand down the line forehand winner from Sharapova saw her get break point but Bouchard found her serve when she needed it and shook it off. The world No60 finally closed it out with some big serving after 70 minutes of sheer battle.
Sharapova saved a break point in game three of the second set by moving Bouchard left and right before finishing off with the backhand cross court winner. She hung on and was helped by a pep talk from her coach Sven Groeneveld, who asked her to be “the aggressor”.
A bad double fault from Bouchard gave Sharapova three break points and the Canadian double-faulted again to hand over the break and go down 2-4. Bouchard, who hadn’t played at this high level of intensity for a long time, looked like she ran out of steam and Sharapova pounced on the opportunity.
The five-time grand slam champion got her hands on two set points on the Bouchard serve and Sharapova sealed it with a brilliant combo of a sharp-angled forehand followed by a down the line drive winner to level the match.
Some unreal movement from Sharapova saw her cover every inch of the court to get break point in Bouchard’s first service game of the decider. But the 23-year-old dug deep to hold for 1-1.
Bouchard’s fighting spirit was back and she got three break points on the Sharapova serve the next game. Somehow Sharapova got out of trouble, and then saved five break points two games later to hold for 3-2.
But Bouchard broke at love in game seven to inch ahead 4-3.
But her lead did not last as Sharapova earned two break points immediately, courtesy of a backhand down the line winner and she leveled for 4-4. The break-fest continued though as Bouchard capitalised on a sloppy game from her opponent and broke to give herself the chance to serve for the match.
Bouchard saved two break points and got her first match point on a long backhand from Sharapova.
The Russian saved it on a wild point that saw a net cord force Bouchard to sprint to the net, then deal with a lob, before Sharapova found the winner.
The Canadian got a second match point and this time did not falter, slamming across a forehand winner to seal a memorable victory. Bouchard bounced off the ground in celebration before the pair shared a formal handshake at the net.