In their previous two meetings, she won exactly three games. That was then. Today, she outlasted the former Wimbledon champion on Centre Court. Argentine Gisela Dulko sent shockwaves through the tennis world with her 6-2, 3-6, 6-4 dismissal of No. 59 ranked and No. 24 seeded Maria Sharapova at SW19.
I say shockwaves because Mary Jo Fernandez, who's married to Sharapova's agent, sounded as though she was going to cry in the booth. Excuses fell like rain from the lips of those who called Sharapova a contender because she'd advanced to the quarterfinals of her first Slam back on her worst surface. But they completely ignored who she beat and how she beat them. Tennis needs Sharapova, dammit, and those with the power to create the propaganda would not be turned back. Now, suddenly, this is only her (fill in the blank) tournament back, etc, etc, etc....
But enough with the hype (excuse) makers.
How did Dulko do it? For my money, her coach sat her down with a tape of Amélie Mauresmo's deconstruction of an in-form former champion in the 2006 semifinals, and they studied it as though cramming for an exam.
Now, make no mistake, Dulko is no Mauresmo. One's a solid but largely disregarded player, the other a two-time Slam champion and legendary choker. And Dulko certainly isn't going to rush the net. But when the Argentine was blocking and chipping back Maria's first serves, using acute angles to pull Sharapova off the court to expose her lumbering movement, and drawing her into the net with short, off-pace shots, I was reminded of that 2006 match.
And where did she get that serve?
Most impressive, however, was Dulko's recovery from a complete mid-match collapse. Receiving serve at 6-2, 3-0, her timid groundstrokes started finding the net.
She lost the next 7 games.
She fell behind an early break in the third set and one would expect Sharapova to run out the match.
Not this time.
Dulko stayed composed, fought back, and broke serve late in the third set, survived a break point serving for the match, squandered match points serving for the match, and eventually closed out the upset when Sharapova missed something.
This blog is not quite as quiet as it was yesterday, but could you imagine the traffic if Roger Federer or Venus Williams lost in the second round to a solid but largely disregarded player?
My bias says our readership is the most savvy on the Internet. Our traffic today backs that up.
Sharapova is beloved by her die hard fans, as is any player, Madison Avenue, and the tennis story makers -- those who would like to create a compelling narrative about her when, really, quite frankly, there isn't one -- but she's not as needed on the tour as many would like to have us believe.
Nadia Petrova is sleeping better tonight.
North American Surprise
Sam Querrey's father took a last-minute flight to London to see his son play on Centre Court. That alone choked me up.
I could have done without the pre-match ESPN studio interview -- players need to focus before matches, not do publicity -- could have done without that serving-for-the-second-set choke, and certainly could have done with out that serving-to-stay-in-the-match-fifth-set choke, but staying competitive in a match down two sets to love and pushing it to five was quite the Centre Court christening for the young American who not that long about seemed more interested in his Porsche than his tennis career.
Clearly, Querrey has worked hard on his fitness, movement, and footwork. Not sure he'll ever win anything big, because a killer instinct seems to be lacking, though he was one of my wild cards for this quarter. But today's performance was one for which he can be proud and Marin Cilic, the No. 11 seed who almost found himself down two sets to love, should consider himself fortunate his slightly older but less experienced opponent couldn't put the hammer down.