Eugenie Bouchard pulled off her first win over Maria Sharapova with a 7-5 2-6 6-4 triumph in the Madrid Open on Monday night in a thrilling contest full of tension after the Canadian had called the Russian a cheater following her doping ban.
Bouchard, 23, saw the five-time grand slam winner as her idol when she was growing up but her admiration vanished when Sharapova tested positive for the banned substance meldonium at the 2016 Australian Open, which led to a 15-month suspension.
The match was the most eagerly anticipated when the draw was made after Bouchard’s comments in the Turkish media in April when she said Sharapova was a “cheater” and should not have been allowed to compete again following her positive test.
Bouchard stood by her comments about Sharapova on arriving in the Spanish capital and after Monday’s victory the Canadian said recent events had made her more fired up for the game.
“I definitely had some extra motivation going into today, Obviously I had never beaten her before and then there were other circumstances,” she told a news conference.
“I was actually quite inspired before the match because I had a lot of players coming up to me privately wishing me good luck, players I don’t normally speak to, getting a lot of texts from people in the tennis world that were just rooting for me.
“So I wanted to do it for myself, but also all these people. I really felt support.”
After suffering a tough defeat, Sharapova avoided getting drawn into the extra furore surrounding the game.
“I’ve been part of this game for many years. I know what the drill is,” she said. “But at the end of the day, it’s just two athletes competing against each other, and I’m one of them. That’s how I treat this game.
“What you work for for so many hours every single day is to be on the winning end of matches. Today was just not that day.”
Monday’s enthralling contest, which lasted nearly three hours, certainly lived up to the hype.
Bouchard, ranked 60th in the world, entered Madrid after five tour-level opening round losses in a row and her three-set first round win over Alize Cornet was her first since the Australian Open in January.
But her extra determination to beat Sharapova was on display as she managed to win a gruelling 70-minute first set against the 30-year-old Russian by clinching the 12th game.
Sharapova, who reached the Stuttgart Grand Prix semi-finals last month in her first tournament since being banned, was given a pep-talk by coach Sven Groeneveld at 2-1 down in the second and roared back to win four straight games to wrap up the set.
But the Russian played too many risky shots in the decider and, after saving three break points in two consecutive service games, she was broken in the seventh game.
Sharapova broke back immediately but then dropped another service game to allow Bouchard to serve out for the match.
The pair endured a brief, awkward handshake after Bouchard claimed a place in the third round against top seed Angelique Kerber, who she beat on her way to the Wimbledon final in 2014.
“It was a very tough match, not only physically and tennis-wise, but also mentally and emotionally,” Bouchard added.
“Each point was a battle from the first point. It was really a fight. I’m just proud that I came out stronger in the end and held it together in the third set.”