For almost 2 hours and 45 minutes this afternoon in Indian Wells, Maria Sharapova and Zheng Jie played a tough second round match of topsy-turvy tennis, filled with momentum changes and frustration. 10th seed Sharapova had repeated problems with her serve, double-faulting 14 times; segments of the match that were filled with errors were often followed by long and entertaining rallies.
In the first set, Zheng moved Sharapova around successfully, and finished a number of points with her impressive forehand. She won that set 6-3. In the second set, however, Zheng appeared to lose her sense of flow and began making more errors. At the same time, Sharapova--though continuing to struggle with her serve--began hitting groundstrokes with more precision and power. She won the set 6-2.
Up a quick break in the third set, Sharapova appeared to have found--if not her game--at least a comfort level. She hit some very good second serves, and she took advantage of Zheng's weak second serve. But then Zheng found her way again, started moving Sharapova all around the court like she did in the first set, and again used her forehand (and her backhand, too, at this point) to finish points. She emerged the winner, 6-3, 2-6, 6-3.
It was a somewhat messy affair, and included games that went to deuce eight and nine times. Both players looked tired by the middle of the third set, and my guess is that it was mental fatigue they were feeling. Zheng's defensive skills are formidable, and her first serve has improved. She is one more player, however, who needs a better second serve; it would save her a lot of frustration and points.
Also in the second round, 19th seed Aravane Rezai defeated Francesca Schiavone 6-7, 7-6, 6-4 in a match that lasted 2 hours and 52 minutes.
In doubles, Iveta Benesova and Barbora Zahlavova Strycova upset 5th seeds Alisa Kleybanova and Francesca Schiavone. The team of Benesova and Zahlavova Strycova is one to keep an eye on this season.