Chris McGrath: Sharapova hints at earlier glories in regal progress

Over on Centre Court, they had to make do with the monarch. Here on Court One, we had an authentic princess of sport. Mind you, there were times when Maria Sharapova's 6-1, 6-4 defeat of Ioana Raluca Olaru had its own ceremonial quality, straying between the ritual and the perfunctory. Such, however, are the familiar hazards of the women's tour these days, above all on this surface. By dusk, indeed, Serena Williams would annihilate Sharapova's compatriot, Anna Chakvetadze 6-0, 6-1, in 47 merciless minutes.

Over the past decade, only Sharapova and Amélie Mauresmo have intruded on the reign of the Williams sisters here, and injury and retirement respectively have since compounded a chronic lack of depth among the rest. What a pity, then, that Sharapova – as 16th seed – is on track to meet Serena as early as the fourth round. It was Serena, of course, whom she overwhelmed in the 2004 final, when aged just 17. Sharapova's has since become the most lucrative career in all female sport, lately extending to an eight-year, $70m [£46m] endorsement deal with Nike. But her flesh, however divine to the marketing men, has not proved immune to corporeal wear and tear. Her last two visits here, either side of a shoulder operation, were a washout.

This time, however, she has arrived on a steadily ascending graph line – recently spiked by a serve of 121mph at Birmingham, the fastest of her career – and this proved another highly constructive workout.

Whether daunted by her opponent or their environment, her Romanian opponent contributed precious little to a 32-minute opening set, and promptly yielded an early break in the second, too. Olaru, ranked 114, had lost 11 out of 12 games prior to this tournament and her choppy service action proved inadequate to stem Sharapova's aggression. Soon a post-prandial torpor so pervaded the sultry afternoon that even the officials seemed to doze off, Sharapova twice winning Hawk-Eye appeals that exposed the line judges as wildly inaccurate.

To her credit, Olaru did pull herself back level with some stylish passes in the eighth game, but it proved that both players had simply become complacent in the result. Sharapova promptly won the next two games to finish the match, and reproached herself afterwards for that fleeting inattention. "I just kind of stopped in the middle of the second set, and let her back in," she admitted.

All in all, however, this was a plausible glimpse of the Sharapova who first emerged here as such an unbridled delight. On those occasions when she did reach the net, especially, instinct and execution alike proved so pristine that you implored her not to take on the challenges ahead with baseline power alone. Her win ratio at the net was 20:23.

Asked about her fitness, she disarmingly intimated that 23 was the height of decrepitude. "We're professional athletes," she said. "We don't wake up in the morning and say: 'Everything feels perfect.' Maybe when we're very young. But at this point in our careers, it's impossible to feel fit. Physically, fitness-wise, I feel really good – a lot better than I did last year, when I was sitting here."

But the only pain she acknowledged now was the memory of her exit at the equivalent stage last year. "I was on the plane the next day," she said. "I really thought about that, especially towards the end of the match. There was no way I was going home. I'm here to contend, and I'm here to win the tournament."

Serena may have her own views about that and likewise, no doubt, Barbora Zahlavova Strycova, who beat Daniela Hantuchova 1-6, 6-2, 6-4 and stands between Sharapova and the No 1 seed – whose supremacy over Chakvetadze bordered on the grotesque. She won 27 out of 31 points on her first serve, and walloped 27 winners.

A potential semi-final opponent for both, meanwhile, remains Caroline Wozniacki. The 19-year-old Dane once won the junior title here, and last year reached her first Grand Slam final in the US Open. Though the Queen had left Centre Court before Wozniacki's match with Kai-Chen Chang they had been introduced earlier in the day and she produced a buoyant display to win 6-4, 6-3.

News
Andy Davidhazy at the beginning (left) and end (right) of his hike
video
News
Taylor Swift is applying to trademark song lyrics from 1989
people
Voices
The popularity of TV shows such as The Liver Birds encouraged Liverpudlians to exaggerate their Scouse accent
voicesWe exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
Parker says: 'I once had a taster use the phrase 'smells like the sex glands of a lemming'. Who in the world can relate to that?'
food + drinkRobert Parker's 100-point scale is a benchmark of achievement for wine-makers everywhere
News
i100
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing