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Maria Sharapova: A Comeback Kid or Just Another Pretty Face?
David W. Smith, Senior Editor TennisOne
With all the hype surrounding Novak Djokovic these days, some of the other interesting stories are flying well under the radar at the French Open. Not surprisingly, any talk about a possible Federer and Nadal match-up has been almost non-existent this year.
Click photo: Novak Djokovic and his streak have been the buzz in the tennis world all year.
Certainly the emergence of Novak Djokovic is is the story of the year. His domination of the men's tour has been truly astounding and has created intrigue for sure. The streak, currently at 42, is quite spectacular. How far he can take it, well that's anyone's guess, but so far he shows no signs of cooling off, with seven, count-em, straight combined wins over Nadal and Federer. Still, he will once again have to go through Federer, and, possibly Nadal to have any chance of equaling Vilas' magical 47 match winning streak – not an easy task by any means
On the women's side, some of the drama seems to have evaporated with Clijsters, Wozniacki, and last year's finalist, Samantha Stosur out by the fourth round. And, there have also been early exits of past Grand Slam Champions such as Ana Ivanovic, and former number one's like Jelena Jankovic, couple that with the injuries to the William Sisters (both didn't play in this year's French Open) and you have a wide open field.
What's left in the Quarter Finals are four women ranked in the teens competing against four women, the highest ranked of which is Victoria Azarenka at four. And of course, there's last year's champion, Francesca Schiavone still in the mix.
But one player who is attracting a lot of attention at Roland Garros is the three time slam champion, Maria Sharapova. With her win in Rome, her first in almost a year, Maria is finally showing signs of resurgence after wandering in the desert for the last three years. Unlike Kim Clijsters, who after a two and a half year self-imposed exile, waltzed through the field at the US Open in only her third tournament (perhaps the greatest comeback since Seabiscuit conquered the field at the Santa Anita Handicap in 1940), the road back for Sharapova has been a bit more arduous. She last won a slam at the Australian Open in early 2008, and that’s an eternity in tennis years. For sure, the shoulder injury set her so far back that she has not gone past the fourth round of any major since (except for a Quarter-final exit in the French in ’09.)
Not Just Another Pretty Face
For the last few years, Maria Sharapova has been a favorite of the Paparazzi and her face can be seen in magazines and photo spreads everywhere. She makes far more money from endorsements than from hitting balls over a net and it’s easy to forget that this woman is a major talent.
Click photo: Sharapova's serve is one of the strongest on the tour, yet, like other parts of her game, it can be patchy at times.
At 6’2” she presents a striking image with long legs and lithe, almost graceful looking movements. But don’t let that image fool you, she is one of the fiercest competitors on the WTA tour. Her distinctive shriek, as some might describe it, has an almost animal-like attitude to it, making her look more like an assassin than a swim-suit model, especially when she grits her teeth and scowls at opponents.
Maria has always been a fighter – a player who could mentally keep herself in matches longer and without too many outright breakdowns than some of the more fragile girls on the tour. However, since tennis is a mental game, and with the layoff following her shoulder surgery, she began doubting herself and well, as I said, it’s been a long and winding road back.
Ranked respectably at number seven, Maria has a great opportunity to slide into the semis of the French (as of this writing, she is playing 15th-ranked Andrea Petkovic of Germany in the Quarters finals) and I think she will cruise past Petkovic to reach her first semi-final of a Grand Slam in over three years (of course, I’ve been wrong before). Her opponent in the semis would be Li Na, another player who is making great strides of late, following up her 2nd place finish at this year’s Australian Open. In fact, by the end of 2010, Li Na had clawed her way into the top ten for the first time in her career.
A Game That Fits
In looking at Maria's game, it's mostly about power. She's certainly not the best mover on the court and clay is not her best surface by any means, in fact, the French Open is the only slam she hasn't won. She does, however, posses one of the bigger forehands on the women's tour and she hits it with fearless abandon, although she can add degrees of topspin to execute angles when needed. Her serve is one of the strongest, yet, like other parts of her game, it can be patchy at times, as seen in her fourth round match against Agnieszka Radwanska, where her game was plagued with inconsistency early on. What looked like another loss in an otherwise unremarkable mid-round match, saw yet another inspired comeback from the brink, as Maria held on to win. The girl is gritty!
I think the struggle against Radwanska may have provided Maria with both a sense of confidence, knowing she didn’t play her best and she still pulled out a win, as well as a certain mental toughness.
So, can this former slam winner rediscover her championship form? Well, we will soon find out if indeed, Maria is just another one of the many pretty faces on the WTA tour or if she has fought her way back and is ready to take her place once again besides the elite women. At Roland Garros, I wouldn’t be surprised if she was the last women standing. Can she hoist the Coupe des Mousquetaires trophy above her head on Philippe Chatrier Center Court? I, for one, wouldn’t bet against her.
Editor's Note: Maria has taken out Andrea Petkovic 6-0, 6-3, and plays Li Na in the semi-finals.
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