Until Monday night, Maria Sharapova had never lost a night match at the US Open. In fact, on Saturday night she talked about how much the night atmosphere suits her perfectly.
But all good things must come to an end as Sharapova’s record of 23 consecutive match victories under the lights in New York did against 30th-seeded Carla Suarez Navarro.
Suarez Navarro celebrated her 30th birthday by taking a 6-4, 6-3 win over No. 22 seed Sharapova to move into the quarterfinals. And with the match over by 9:00 pm there would be plenty of time for a celebratory birthday dinner in the city.
“Thank you so much guys,” Suarez Navarro told the crowd after they shouted out “Happy Birthday” to her. “I needed to try to be aggressive, be focused. All the time I have to run and fight.”
Coming into the encounter, Sharapova held a 4-1 career lead over the Spaniard, but the two hadn’t played since the 2015 Rome final, which went in Sharapova’s favor. The one previous match Suarez Navarro won over Sharapova was at the 2014 Montreal tournament.
Sharapova, the 2006 US Open champion, won the last of her five Grand Slam titles four years ago at the 2014 French Open. She missed 15-months on tour from the 2016 Australian Open when she was barred from playing due to testing positive for the banned substance Meldonium.
When asked what’s disappointed her most since she returned to the game in April 2017, Sharapova had the answer.
“I think not being able to consistently put up the level from one match to another, stringing obviously in a span of hopefully a total of seven matches during a Grand Slam,” she said. “It's just a little too up and down.
The problem is she isn’t quite sure why that is happening: “I think if I did (know why) immediately, I'd be able to change that around immediately. I think it's always a work in progress, reevaluation, and always looking ahead.”
Obviously professional enough to handle her post-match press conference, but clearly preferring to be elsewhere, Sharapova scoffed at the suggestion this is the toughest time in her career.
“You know what's challenging is when you're a teenager and you have a few hundred dollars and you've got no sense of the future, you don't know where you're going to end up,” Sharapova said. “You just have a dream. I think that's a lot tougher than being 31 years old and having the opportunity to do whatever I want in my life.”
Suarez Navarro now equals her best previous result at the US Open — a 2013 quarterfinal appearance — by advancing to the final eight where she’ll play No. 14 seed Madison Keys, a finalist here last year.
The win over Sharapova is the only straight-set match victory Suarez Navarro’s has had at this US Open.
Suarez Navarro arrived in New York coming off of her first final showing of the season at the New Haven tournament the Saturday before the US Open started. She fell to Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus in that final.
The Spaniard, known for having a rare one-handed backhand shot, was on top of Sharapova from the outset of the match. She initially had a 4-1 lead in the first set, eventually securing the set when serving for it at 5-4.
Sharapova dropped serve in the fifth game of the second set and couldn’t recover to push the match into a third set.
It was Sharapova’s errors, coupled with Suarez Navarro’s aggressive play, that sealed her departure from the Open. She posted 38 unforced errors to 20 for Suarez Navarro. They both posted 15 winners in the 1 hour, 31 minute match.