In Maria Sharapova’s first Slam with a seeding since her return from a ban for taking a controlled substance, she begins her campaign for a third French Open crown against the Netherlands’ Richel Hogenkamp. Sharapova’s results have been generally impressive this year, and she is certainly playing her best tennis since her comeback began. Will it be enough for a deep run in Paris, or will Hogenkamp trip her up early on?
Sharapova and Hogenkamp have met just once before, in 2015 at Wimbledon in the second round. Sharapova won that one, defeating the Dutchwoman in straight sets 6-3 6-1, going on to reach the semifinals. That result speaks to the gulf in experience between them. Hogenkamp has never been beyond the second round of a Slam, whilst Sharapova has won all four Majors. Sharapova has 36 Tour-level titles, Hogenkamp has none.
Last time out
Sharapova capped off a promising clay court season with an impressive run to the semifinals in Rome. Her season began to move in the right direction with a handful of wins in Madrid that took her to the quarterfinals where she narrowly lost out to eventual finalist Kiki Bertens. She got off to an impressive start with a three set win against 16th seed Ashleigh Barty in Rome, and scored further victories over Cibulkova, Gavrilova and Ostapenko, the last of which was a three-set thriller. But Halep had too much in a three-set win in the semifinals.
Hogenkamp’s last Tour-level action came in Prague, where she was defeated in first round action by Russia’s Ekaterina Alexandrova at the end of April. She then reached the second round at an ITF event in Saint-Gaudens, Haute-Garonne, but was defeated there by Valentini Grammatikopoulou of Greece. However, she impressed in qualifying for the main draw in Paris, dropping only one set en route to the main draw.
How do they match up?
Sharapova’s slight frame belies the considerable power the Russian can draw upon from both her forehand and backhand side. Her best shot is probably her two-handed backhand, which provides Sharapova with a versatile and dangerous weapon. Though her serve was once amongst the best on Tour, a shoulder injury that began troubling her in 2007, ultimately reduced the reliability of the shot, which can have a big effect on Sharapova’s mental state in matches.
Hogenkamp’s most impressive attribute is her movement, which allows her to stay alive in points that many would have lost. However, she is short of power on both her serve and off-the-ground. Her forehand is often hit with heavy spin, but it lacks penetration through the court. Her backhand is a more dependable shot, and the Dutchwoman is not averse to running around her forehand to hit backhands. She does generally play well in the forecourt, and would do well to attack the net often against Sharapova.
Sharapova will feel confident approaching this match and rightly so. It has taken some of the game’s very best to beat her in recent weeks and she showed in Rome that she is closer to her Slam-winning form than she has been for some years. Sharapova may well find that a run to the title is beyond her, but Hogenkamp won’t be the one to stop her. She cannot hurt Sharapova enough to spring the upset, and it will be a comfortable straight sets win for the Russian.