By Steve Gorten
KEY BISCAYNE – She had dreamed about beating Maria Sharapova since she was 12 years old.
She had watched her fellow Russian and idol Sharapova beat Serena Williams to win Wimbledon and thought to herself, “Oh, I really want to play her and beat her.” She had visualized it over and over and over.
And when it materialized Thursday night on stadium court in the second round of the 2015 Miami Open, Daria Gavrilova couldn’t contain her elation.
“I’m just…Oh my God! I’m so excited,” she exclaimed. “I’m so happy. I can’t explain it.”
And then she did.
“To be honest, I always believed,” she said. “That’s probably why I won.”
Moments after stunning Sharapova, the world’s No. 2 ranked women’s player, with a 7-6 (4), 6-3 triumph, the world’s 97th ranked player sat in her courtside chair and shed tears of happiness. Then she smiled, and didn’t stop.
More than a half hour later, when she entered the press conference room following Sharapova’s exit, Gavrilova was still grinning. How did reality compare to her fantasy?
“It was probably a bit harder,” she said, grinning even wider.
A wild-card entrant making her first appearance at the tournament manufactured the biggest upset of the 2015 Miami Open so far. Gavrilova, who debuted in the Top 100 for the first time this week, had lost all four previous matchups against top-10 opponents.
Sharapova, who has reached the final here five times, will have to wait another year for a chance to win her first Miami Open title.
“Of course it’s a bit of a surprise,” Sharapova said. “It’s the [second] round. I’m expected to win. But I think that’s, you know, one of the reasons why we play the matches. You still have to go out and win it no matter if you’re the favorite. Today, I didn’t.”
After capturing a tightly contested first set, Gavrilova broke Sharapova’s serve at love to seize a 5-3 lead. At 30-all the next game, she struck a powerful serve that Sharapova couldn’t control. On match point, Sharapova’s sharp forehand down the line went wide. The crowd erupted in celebration. All night, the fans at Crandon Park Tennis Center had been on the underdog’s side.
“I was actually surprised how many people knew my nickname,” Gavrilova said. “A few people were saying, ‘Yeah, come on, Dasha. Let’s go. You can do it.’ It was an amazing feeling.”
Sharapova broke Gavrilova’s serve in the first set to force a tiebreak, but Gavrilova, who persevered through knee surgery last year, held onto her hope. After a close loss to world No. 3 Simona Halep at Indian Wells earlier this month, she was convinced she was capable of beating the best.
“I was just thinking, ‘OK, be tough, be tough. You can do it,’” Gavrilova said. “I had some negative thoughts at that time, but I kind of got rid of them and just kept going.”
Said Sharapova: “I had little times where I did come back, but I was always behind. I put myself in a situation that was too far behind to come back from.”
These days, Gavrilova considers herself more Australian than Russian. She has lived there since 2010 and expects to be granted citizenship by the end of this. But on Thursday night, she was a Russian girl fulfilling her fantasy.
“I’m not going to sleep tonight because my phone will be going off,” Gavrilova told her coach after the match. Then she added, “Oh, I’ll turn off my Wi-Fi, 4G, 3G, everything off and sleep and get ready for the next one.”