New York: Caroline Wozniacki adjusted and adjusted again, and finally found the secret sauce to upset Maria Sharapova at the U.S. Open on Sunday.
Wozniacki, seeded 10th, defeated the fifth-seeded Sharapova, 6-4, 2-6, 6-2, by employing two separate game plans to win two different sets and advance to the quarterfinals.
Wozniacki won the first set by stretching the court and making Sharapova play as much as possible out of her strike zone. Sharapova committed 28 errors in the opening set, mainly out wide near the alleys reaching for the ball. Sharapova was not able to consistently get her energy behind the ball as her arms were trying to play catch-up for what her legs could not get to.
Wozniacki had a decisive 19-6 winning edge for rallies between five and eight shots in the first set as she redirected and diffused Sharapova's power out to the edge of the court. Wozniacki won more baseline points, 24-18, in the set and faced only two break points to Sharapova's eight.
It was the perfect start against an opponent who defeated her, 6-2, 6-2, the last time they played in the Indian Wells finals last year.
But Sharapova, as she has consistently done all season, roared back to win the second set with unadulterated power. She crushed 22 winners in the second set alone, including 17 off the forehand wing. It was the forehand, devouring anything and everything from the middle of the court, that completely wrested control of the match away from Wozniacki.
Being down in the score has invigorated Sharapova this year, inducing her to swing as hard as she can when backed into a corner.
At the end of the second set, the heat rule was in effect, meaning the players took a mandatory 10-minute break before resuming the third set. It was exactly what Wozniacki needed to regroup and figure out the right countermove to Sharapova's devastatingly good forehand from the middle of the court.
The answer was counterintuitive: Attack the forehand by taking her strong backhand down the line. Wozniacki enjoyed success in the opening set with her backhand crosscourt, but Sharapova was waiting for it in the second set.
After the extended break, Wozniacki immediately started playing down the line with her backhand, catching Sharapova cheating to her left expecting it to go crosscourt. Wozniacki hit four backhand winners in the deciding set, and the tactic derailed Sharapova's potent forehand.
Sharapova was forced into eight forehand errors in the third set.
With Wozniacki already in trouble at 15-30 in her first service game at 0-0 in the third set, she made a backhand down the line after her serve that forced a running forehand error by Sharapova. Wozniacki hit a spectacular, on-the-run backhand down the line on the next point at 30-30 to force another Sharapova forehand error, and her pathway to an unlikely victory was becoming obvious.
Wozniacki hit a backhand winner down the line in the next game and another backhand down the line on the opening point at 1-2 that led to a critical break of serve three points later.
It was a masterly display of move and countermove by both players that ultimately went Wozniacki's way because she had one more move in her bag of tricks than Sharapova. On match point, Wozniacki laced a backhand winner down the line to seal her victory. It was the perfect ending to one of the smartest tennis matches she has ever played.
© 2014 New York Times News Service