LONDON – These are not the sorts of matches Maria Sharapova is supposed to lose, letting lead after lead slip away Tuesday against a qualifier ranked 132nd – and in the first round of Wimbledon, no less.
Then again, at this edition of The Championships, as they prefer to call the event around here, the initial 48 hours have provided more surprising exits than anyone’s accustomed to: A total of seven top-10 men’s and women’s seeds departed in the opening round, more than in any previous year in the professional era’s half-century.
That includes two-time champion and No. 8 seed Petra Kvitova, who was sent home by Aliaksandra Sasnovich of Belarus 6-4, 4-6, 6-0 a few hours before 2004 titlist Sharapova folded against Vitalia Diatchenko in a 6-7 (3), 7-6 (3), 6-4 loss she seemingly controlled time and again before dropping the last three games.
“Sometimes,” Sharapova said, “you put yourself in a better or winning position, and you don’t finish.”
A 15-month doping ban kept her out of the grass-court Grand Slam tournament in 2016, and an injury sidelined her a year ago. It looked as if it would be a pleasant, straightforward return when she went ahead by a set and a break at 5-2.
Sharapova then served for the match at 5-3, but faltered. After being pushed to a third set, Sharapova went up a break at 2-1. That edge disappeared right away. She went up another break at 4-3. That advantage, too, was given right back. Sharapova’s collapse eventually ended, perhaps fittingly, with her 11th double-fault.
How unlikely was this result?
Since losing the first two Grand Slam matches of her career as a teenager, Sharapova was 49-1 in openers at majors, 13-0 at Wimbledon.
She’s a former No. 1, now seeded 24th, who owns five Grand Slam titles.
Repeatedly sidetracked by injuries of one sort or another – “I think I will write a book after I finish playing,” Diatchenko joked about her health history – the 27-year-old Russian came into the day 0-2 at Wimbledon and 8-25 overall in main-draw matches at all tour-level events.
“Everybody,” Diatchenko said, “expects me to lose the match.”
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