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By Richard Pagliaro | Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Streaks of shoe slides across the Stuttgart red clay marked Caroline Garcia's adventurous road trip.

Garcia waited seven years for another shot at closure against Maria Sharapova and put her foot down when it arrived today.

Watch: US Open To Use Shot Clock

Roaring back from a break down in the final set, Garcia fended off Sharapova in a thriller, 3-6, 7-6 (6), 6-4, advancing to the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix second round.

Seven years ago, Garcia held a one-set, 4-1 lead over Sharapova in the Roland Garros second round only to see the Russian roll through 12 straight games to snuff out the uprising.

Today, Garcia withstood 17 aces from Sharapova defeating the three-time Stuttgart champion for the first time in five meetings.

"I think it was a very close match for sure as expected," Garcia said afterward. "I knew she's a fighter so until the end it would be difficult. I was a little more aggressive and returned a little bit better. Finally, after seven years I beat her."

It is Sharapova's fourth straight loss and will send the world No. 41 spiraling out of the Top 50 when the new WTA rankings are released on Monday.




Sharapova started stronger, Garcia closed with clarity setting up a second-round match with Marta Kostyuk.

The 15-year-old Ukrainian qualifier swept German wild card Antonia Lottner, 6-4, 6-1.

Playing with a purpose from the outset, Sharapova looked driven to earn her first win since the Australian Open in January. 

Crunching deep drives Sharapova exploited a couple of double faults breaking Garcia in her opening service game.

The former world No. 1 issued a quick hold backing up the break for 3-0.

Both women know their way around clay.

Sharapova is a two-time Roland Garros champion; Garcia partnered Kristina Mladenovic to the 2016 French Open doubles title. Mladenovic and Carla Suarez Navarro were among several players watching today's match from within a packed crowd.

Cracking the first strike with conviction, Sharapova stamped a strong hold in the fifth game. Garcia's father and coach, Louis Paul, came out for a consultation.

That seemed to settle the sixth seed, who smacked an aggressive second serve holding at 15 for 2-4. Garcia reeled off six of seven points going up love-30 on the Russian's serve, but missed the mark with a slice backhand, followed with a forehand error as Sharapova held strong.

Slashing her second ace down the T brought Sharapova to triple set point. Banging another heavy serve out wide, the three-time champion collected the opening set in 34 minutes on the strength of a single break.

While Garcia tried to use her athleticism and varied spins to make the match about movement, Sharapova straddled the baseline and banged flat drives into the corner denying the Frenchwoman the time required to create. Sharapova hit seven winners compared to one for Garcia in the opener.

Drilling another ace, Sharapova denied her first break point of the match holding in her first game of the second set.

Garcia began timing her returns more sharply pressuring the Russian's serve. A two-ace game finished off by a forehand drive volley helped Sharapova withstand a challenging fourth game for 2-all.

Two games later, Garcia ripped a return earning double break point. Sharapova spit up her third double fault as Garcia gained her first break for 4-2.

Every time Garcia made a push, Sharapova shoved right back.

A shaky seventh game from the Frenchwoman ended with Sharapova streaming forward to muscle a forehand drive volley breaking right back.




Smacking her 10th ace helped the 31-year-old Russian roll through a love hold leveling for 4-all.

While her game ebbed and flowed during the second set, Garcia stood strong saving two break points to hold in the ninth game. Sharapova held at 15 to force the tie break.

A calm Garcia played cleaner tennis in the tie break. Sharapova's fifth double fault and a stray backhand gave the Frenchwoman three set points at 6-3.

There was no concession from the three-time champion. Sharapova saved all three, including swatting her 14th ace on the second set point, eventually evening it.

Shrugging off the lapse, Garcia drained a pair of forehand errors to force a final set after one hour, 48 minutes.

The slider down the middle was a major weapon for Sharapova, who hit her 14th ace in that spot saving a break point in a hold to open the final set.

The Russian's two-handed backhand is her most damaging weapon. Sharapova whipped it crosscourt banging out a backhand error on her third break point for 2-0 only to see Garcia snap her two-hander down the line breaking right back.

Calling for coach Thomas Hogstedt after the third game, Sharapova was silent as Hogstedt urged her to play with a bit more margin.

"She feels enormous pressure when you make the return," the veteran coach said. "You don't need to go for the line, keep being qiuck on both sides, especially after the first shot."

The sixth seed defend her serve with vigor firing her fifth ace for 3-all.

Deadlocked at 4-all, Sharapova showed few signs of rust to that point. But the lack of match play combined with the pressure of trying to close her first win since January prompted the Russian into overplaying. Sharapova overhit a forehand sitter down the line and hit her 10th double fault giving Garcia two break points.

Unleashing her all-court attack, Garcia ran around her backhand clubbed an inside-out forehand winner sealing her second break of the set.




Curling her sixth ace out wide brought Garcia to match point, but Sharapova saved it with a booming backhand crosscourt.

A mis-hit forehand fell in giving Garcia a second match point.

When Sharapova's final backhand return wide Garcia was through in two hours, 44 minutes, a victory seven years in the making.

"She's really playing every single point 100 percent so even when I was up I got a bit stressed," Garcia said referring to her 2011 Roland Garros loss. "She had the experience with her and I didn't win anymore games. It was not a good experience for me so definitely an important win today."  

 

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