Former world #1 and 2006 US Open champion Maria Sharapova has recently forced her way back into the top 25, but suffered her first opening round exit at a Major since 2010 at Wimbledon. She will be keen to redeem herself in New York, and after a first round victory, will face off against world #50 Sorana Cirstea on Thursday. Cirstea has only once made it past the second round of the US Open in nine attempts, and may have a hard time repeating that feat with Sharapova in her way.
Somewhat surprisingly, on account of both having been top 50 players for the majority of the last decade, Sharapova and Cirstea have only met competitively once before. That match came almost six years ago, in Beijing at the China Open in 2012. Also played on a hard court, the match wasn’t a particularly memorable one. Sharapova, then firmly entrenched in the top ten and the second seed in Beijing, won it easily 6-2 6-2.
Path to the second round
Sharapova had what shaped up as an easy first-round match against world #186 Patty Schnyder, whose presence in the draw was one of the stories of the tournament, with the Swiss being the oldest qualifier in Grand Slam history at 39. Sharapova was made to work for her win despite a straightforward first set, which she won 6-2. Schnyder fought back in the second to reach a tiebreak. But the Russian just managed to win it 8-6.
Things were even more difficult for Cirstea, who was very nearly knocked out in the first round by world #75 and home hope Alison Riske. Cirstea made a strong start, dominating the American from the back of the court and was rewarded with the first set, which she won 6-3. But, backed by the New York crowd, Riske fought back to level the match in the second set. Cirstea, however, stuck to her task in the decider and ran out a 6-3 3-6 7-5 winner in exactly two hours.
How do they match up?
Standing at 6’2”, Sharapova is a powerful hitter on both wings, and also has excellent feel, particularly on her backhand. For this reason, she tends to prefer faster courts, though she has performed well on all surfaces throughout her career. But, she has struggled at various points in her career with her serve, once a powerful weapon, as a result of numerous shoulder surgeries, though she appears to have survived the worst of it.
Expect Cirstea to attempt to match the Russian for power, with the Romanian relying largely on her ability to hit through opponents. She tends to play high-risk tennis, looking for winners wherever possible, often to her own detriment. Unforced errors have long been a problem for her, but one she will not be able to afford in this match. Neither of these players will take a backward step, but Sharapova will likely show a little more discernment about when to attack.
This should be an entertaining match, and likely one with a lot of winners and a lot of unforced errors. Each player will look to come inside the baseline wherever possible, but where the match will be won is in Sharapova’s ability to read the points better than her opponent. Cirstea’s judgement is too often lacking, and against a player of Sharapova's calibre, that will be her undoing in this match. Expect a straight sets Sharapova win.