NEW YORK - During a rain delay down 0-2 in the third set to her old rival Nadia Petrova, Maria Sharapova took a call from her father Yuri, who once served as her main coach. He no longer does, but don't think he doesn't watch every one of her matches.
Yuri called her main coach, Tomas Hogstedt, and told him he wanted to speak with his daughter, who blew a couple chances late in the second set of an up and down match and began the third set spraying balls.
It was Yuri who had jumped up and down out of his seat and loudly barked out instructions during Maria’s 7-5, 4-6, 6-4 victory over Petrova back at the 2005 US Open in the quarters. The camera was frequently on his intense face back then, but it is no longer as he doesn't travel to tournaments and only works with his beloved daughter when she’s at home.
But this time, he wanted her to shake off her doldrums.
"I didn't want to hear it after if I didn't call him," Sharapova said after her 6‑1, 4‑6, 6‑4 victory, "I didn't want to have that conversation."
That conversation would have gone something like this 'why didn't you call me when you know I know how to tell you can beat her.' Hogstedt might have told her to serve more to Petrova's body or go down the line more after he drew her off court in crosscourt rallies, but it was Yuri who was going to tell her to just go out and hand Nadia a can of whoop-ass.
"He knows by now, where to stop and where to keep going. He has that experience with me," she said. "He just said, your energy dropped in the beginning of the second set. That's over. Now you got to go out there and fight."
Fight she did and more than that, as the quality of her play went way up. She served ambitiously and wonderfully. She was patient when she needed to be and was vicious off the ground, She didn't get discouraged when Petrova served bombs and she shook off a couple of her own double faults. She kept going for her second serves, many of which were in the mid-90s because she didn't want to give her foe a chance to pounce. She growled, she shrieked, she fist-pumped and most importantly, she reached her first US Open quarterfinal since she won the title since 2006.
Petrova later allegedly said that the rain delay made it Sharapova’s lucky day.
Maria wouldn't rise to the bait and responded: "Great. I'm the winner, so whatever she wants to call it is fine with me."
Sharapova had said earlier in the week that her last four performances in New York were nothing to get excited about. Aga Radwanska had stunned her on super windy day back in 2007 in the third round. She missed 2008 due to her swerve shoulder injury, In 2009, US teen Melanie Oudin ran her out of the building in round three. In 2010 Caroline Wozniacki did the same in the fourth round, and last year, she kept backing up while Flavia Pennetta exhausted her in round three.
The two losses to Oudin and Wozniacki might be considered somewhat acceptable because she was still re-learning to play post shoulder surgery, but last year’s defeat was absurd and uncharacteristic of her.
Maybe that’s part of the reason why after she bested Petrova, she celebrated like she won the title.
"I certainly felt that energy today, especially when we came back. Maybe just gave an opportunity for people to drink more so they're more excited, I'm not sure," she said with a laugh about the one hour and 15 minute rain delay. "You're playing a night match at the US Open, you have a rain delay, you come back, and all the same people that were there waited and they came back to watch the end of the match. So that energy in the stadium with the music and the cheering, it's just unique. I think it really, really pumped me up. I wasn't going to leave that court without a fight."
While Sharapova has become pretty good about compartmentalizing off court, she doesn’t put each loss or victory in a separate box, tie it up and re-open it when she wants to punish herself or celebrate. At the age of 25, she has a pretty good perspective on her career, and she does seem to have her life in order too, or at least in a new order.
Sharapova and her fiancée, pro basketball player Sasha Vujacic, ended their engagement at the end of the spring and since May, she has won Stuttgart, Rome, Roland Garros, and Olympic silver singles medal. He was playing for a team in Turkey and they rarely saw each other. That's rarely going to cut it in fairly new relationship.
"It was obviously a challenging decision from both of our ends," she said. "It was a really nice period of time for both of us, but our career schedules just made it extremely difficult to see each other. But we have a tremendous amount of respect for each other. Still would love to call him as a friend. We spent really great years together."
Sharapova is taking the long term view of her life and of her career, so she’s not going to beat herself up over her previous US Open loses. She’s puts them in context of bigger picture and moves ahead.
"I think it's the only way to look at it," she said. "I think if you look at it in a negative perspective it's pretty tough. You have a whole 'nother year; that's pretty depressing."
Sharapova will face another veteran in the quarterfinal, Marion Bartoli, who stunned fifth seed Petra Kvitova 1-6 6-2 6-0. She is 4-0 against the Frenchwoman and has never lost a set to her. But Bartoli has come into other matches with a negative record against her opponent and come through. Kvitova had just crushed her 6-1, 6-1 in Montreal last month and somehow she rose to the heavens on the Grandstand and belted the Czech off the court. The 27-year-old has now reached the quarterfinal or better of every Slam, which is to be admired. She has also been rewarded by her dedication.
"Even if I had some tough losses and felt I hit rock bottom I always felt I was giving my hardest," Bartoli said. "I was trying hard and it wasn't happening and at the end of day you can look yourself in the mirror and say, ‘I tried everything I could.’ But I don't want to stop in the quarterfinals. That not my goal."
Given that Sharapova completed a career Slam at Roland Garros (winning all four majors), even if she loses to Bartoli she could say that she had a successful Slam season. But that’s not how she sees it. She is still hungry because she has tasted triumph and wants try a few more courses.
"When you have moments of victory, when you're holding the trophy, you think back of the work you put in," she said. "That's when you realize that it's worth it. That's when you know that there's no better motivation. If I didn't have [hunger] I would be announcing a retirement, but I'm not. I still feel like I have a lot more left in me, things that I certainly can improve in my game."