Niculescu dispatches Sharapova in Qatar
2/13/2018 2:49:22 AM EST
Maria Sharapova's stay at the Qatar Total Open didn't last long.
Romania's Monica Niculescu sent the former World No. 1 packing by producing a 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 victory in Monday's first-round match at Doha, Qatar.
Niculescu committed just 17 unforced errors while Sharapova had a staggering 52 as she struggled with Niculescu's variety of spinning and slicing shots.
"I love it how I play and I like to be unique, and I think my slice forehand is a weapon," Niculescu said in a postmatch press conference. "And when I feel good on the court, then I play relaxed, I can be good and can be dangerous."
Sharapova hit more winners (31 to 12) and won the opening set of the two-hour, 38-minute match but the Russian was unable to match Niculescu in the latter stages. Niculescu won 12 of the final 13 points to seal the win.
"I thought I did a really good job in the first set and a half, but that's obviously not enough to win the match," Sharapova said afterward. "I did a good job of winning the longer rallies, even though that's not really what I wanted to get myself into. So physically I felt good. I just got pretty passive in the end and starting making too many errors.
"I love playing in three-set matches, and I think I've thrived in them my career. So I don't necessarily shy away from that challenge. I think I have to look at the tape and see why I started going back behind the baseline and not moving forward, not putting the pace on her."
Niculescu had to go through qualifying to reach the main draw.
"I think those two matches in qualies helped me a lot," Niculescu said. "I knew a little bit about the surface and the conditions -- it's a bit windy. I'm happy that I could get through. It was a tough match, and to beat Maria first round here in Doha Centre Court was good match, in (nearly) three hours too."
Among the other players to advance were Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland and Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia.
Radwanska finally dispatched Mona Barthel of Germany on her 10th match point for a 3-6, 6-4, 7-5 victory. She had 30 winners and just 10 unforced errors while Barthel had 58 winners but sabotaged her efforts with 37 unforced errors and eight double faults.
"I'd rather not talk about those 10 match points!" Radwanska said afterward. "The important thing is I won the 10th one. But definitely it shouldn't be like this, I made a few mistakes and maybe I played too defensive -- and she played very well as well.
"But to be honest, this isn't how you want to win matches -- it should have been over at least 30 minutes before."
Meanwhile, Cibulkova fought off Russia's Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 7-6 (8), 6-4.
Cibulkova delivered 23 winners against 20 unforced errors. Pavlyuchenkova had 28 winners against 26 unforced errors.
"I was expecting a tough match against Anastasia," Cibulkova said afterward. "It's always tough. We know each other really well and played so much great matches."
American CiCi Bellis advanced with a 7-5, 4-1 victory over Russia's Daria Kasatkina, who was forced to retire with a neck injury.
In other first-round matches, Japan's Naomi Osaka defeated Czech Republic's Katerina Siniakova 6-4, 6-0; Russia's Ekaterina Makarova defeated China's Shuai Zhang 7-5, 6-0; Anna Blinkova stunned fellow Russian Elena Vesnina 6-1, 6-3; Romania's Mihaela Buzarnescu was a 7-5, 6-4 winner over Ukraine's Lesia Tsurenko, and China's Ying-Ying Duan beat Tunisia's Ons Jabeur 6-2, 6-3.
--Field Level Media