Maria Sharapova is very much a creature of habit – and there are restaurant owners the length and breadth of Melbourne who are very grateful for that.
For all her many talents, the Russian has her little superstitions and routines that she believes help her win, and one of those is eating at the same restaurants throughout a tournament.
“It’s all experience,” she said, having just brushed aside Ekaterina Makarova 6-2 6-2 on Tuesday to advance to the semifinals of the Australian Open.
“I go through routines that work for me, I go with the flow of routines. I go to the same restaurants where I’m familiar with the food. Maybe all of us have a little bit of that in us.”
Actually, Sharapova was quite wrong: there are very few people in this world who have what she has. Very few people indeed. But that aside, those proprietors who have had Miss S in their restaurants in the last nine days are guaranteed to have her back for as long as she remains in the draw. Judging by the way she has scythed through the first five rounds, she looks likely to be here until the weekend. That can only be good for business.
So far, Sharapova has dropped a miserly nine games en route to the semifinal, and that is a record for the Australian Open. Since the Open Era began, no woman has been as ruthless or as efficient in Melbourne. In five rounds, she has spent just five hours and 15 minutes on court, which works out at an average of 63 minutes a round.
But if Makarova was looking for a few crumbs of comfort after her straight-sets pasting, she could console herself with the fact that by keeping Sharapova on court for 66 minutes, she upped the Russian’s match time average by a whole minute from 62 minutes after the fourth round. But given that Sharapova has earned $500,000 for reaching the last four and spent just 315 minutes doing it, it means that Russia’s most famous export is earning at the rate of $1,587.30 a minute. And that won’t make Makarova feel any better.
“To be honest, those are not the statistics you want to be known for,” Sharapova said. “It’s a great stat, but I’m just so glad to be in the semifinals again.”
Sharapova was not half bad before her shoulder problems first struck in 2007, but now she has rebuilt her game and her confidence, she looks stronger, tougher and better than ever. The forehand is more reliable, the return is more of a weapon and the serve, while maybe not quite as potent as in days of yore, is back to being a threat. Add that little lot to one of the best backhands in the business, and she is in stunning form at the moment.
Makarova did not do herself any favours, mind you. This was not the same player who powered her way past Angelique Kerber in the previous round but, alas, that is Ekaterina for you: you are never quite sure what you are going to get whenever she steps on court. Some days, she is great; some days she isn’t. On Tuesday, she racked up twice as many errors as winners, and against Sharapova, that was never going to cut it.
Li Na may keep the world No.2 on court a little longer in the next round, but you would not put your house on it. In this mood and this form, Sharapova looks like a dead cert for the final. The restaurant owners of Melbourne can rest easy.