Trying to get back to the U.S. Open quarterfinals for the first time since winning the 2006 title, Maria Sharapova found herself trailing in the final set against Nadia Petrova when some rain came.
Given a chance to regroup, Sharapova sought out coach Thomas Hogstedt, who delivered a simple message: Call Dad. So she did exactly that, phoning her father, Yuri, who used to travel with Sharapova on tour and helped build her game.
"He just said, 'You know, your energy dropped in the beginning of the second set. That's over. That's done. Now you've got to go out there and fight,'" Sharapova recounted.
She heeded his advice. Shrieking loudly during points, screaming and pumping her fist after winning them, Sharapova grabbed control after the rain delay of a little more than an hour, coming back to beat the 19th-seeded Petrova 6-1, 4-6, 6-4 on Sunday night.
"She came out there with determination," said Petrova, who later was a little less charitable, declaring that "unfortunately, it was her lucky day."
Well, the chance to meet with Hogstedt and get a pep talk from Pops might have helped, but Sharapova also comes by her late-match success honestly: She is 11-0 this season in three-setters. Behind 2-0 in the deciding set Sunday, Sharapova took five of the next six games following the resumption in play.
"I always think that, no matter how you start the match, it's always how you finish. Whether it's an hour or whether it's three hours that you're out there, I don't want to give up until the last point," Sharapova said. "That's pretty much the mentality I try to have going into a third set."
The third-seeded Sharapova will face 2007 Wimbledon runner-up Marion Bartoli of France for a semifinal berth. The 11th-seeded Bartoli beat No. 5 Petra Kvitova, who won Wimbledon last year, 1-6, 6-2, 6-0.
In another quarterfinal, top-seeded Victoria Azarenka will play No. 7 Sam Stosur, the defending champion. Azarenka defeated 73rd-ranked Anna Tatishvili 6-2, 6-2, while Stosur ended the run of 18-year-old Laura Robson 6-4, 6-4.
"She has a very different style of game," Sharapova said about Bartoli. "We haven't played against each other in a long while. That was a huge win over Kvitova, who's been playing well this summer. It's just a great stage to be at."
And one she hasn't visited in a while in New York.
Asked about how long ago that 2006 championship feels now, Sharapova said: "Sometimes you look back and you think, 'Wow, that was many years ago.' I had baby cheeks still. But then you think, 'Oh, where has the time flown? It's so fast.'"
Since winning the second of her four career Grand Slam trophies, Sharapova hadn't enjoyed much success at Flushing Meadows. She lost in the third round in 2007 as the defending champion, again in 2009 and last year, too. She exited in the fourth round in 2010, and missed the 2008 tournament shortly before having right shoulder surgery.
This has been an eventful year for Sharapova, on and off the court.
She ended her engagement to former NBA player Sasha Vujacic. She won the French Open for the first time to complete a career Grand Slam and briefly return to No. 1 in the WTA rankings. She made it to the gold-medal match at the London Olympics, only to get walloped by Serena Williams 6-0, 6-1. And then, right before heading to New York, she pulled out of hard-court tuneup tournaments at Cincinnati and Montreal with a stomach virus.
With a game suited to the surface, Sharapova showed up at the U.S. Open this time and immediately began playing well. She had lost only seven games through three matches, but two-time French Open semifinalist Petrova had exceeded that total by the opening game of the final set.
After splitting the match's opening two games, they went back and forth, back and forth. Sharapova took five games in a row. Petrova took the next four. Then came four for Sharapova. And then four for Petrova.
Already leading 3-0 in the second set, and with a chance to go up by another break with Sharapova serving at 30-all, Petrova let a point get away from her and lost it with a backhand into the net. Dismayed, Petrova put her left palm over her face and smacked herself in the head with her racket a couple of times.
But Petrova recovered and did take that game to go ahead 4-0 in that set.
That, though, is where Sharapova showed up again, taking the next four games to get to 4-all.
And in yet another momentum shift, Petrova broke Sharapova with a forehand winner down the line to take the second set.
Petrova carried that swing into the third, too, extending her run to 10 points in a row by taking a 2-0 lead as rain began to fall. Behind 1-0, Sharapova double-faulted to give Petrova a break point, then flubbed a drop shot, sailing it wide, to get broken at love.
That's when a drizzle got stronger, and the players were sent to sit in their sideline chairs to see whether it might let up. Five minutes later, they headed to the locker room.
A little more than an hour after that, Sharapova and Petrova walked back out onto the court, warmed up and resumed. Petrova began things with a serve at 116 mph, her fastest of the evening to that point, but Sharapova quickly came up with four winners to break Petrova and then held at love to make it 2-all.
At 3-3, Sharapova got the key break, producing a superb lob winner and also getting help from Petrova's unforced errors.
How to explain Sharapova's ups and downs?
"The finish line is near, she starts hesitating, thinking a little bit maybe too much. And then she kind of starts a little bit falling apart, sometimes double-faulting, making too many unforced errors," Petrova said. "And she has this thing in the third — she's able to regroup, bring that Maria from the first set back."
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