Maria Sharapova and Rafael Nadal's Titles Take Them a Step Closer to the Top

Tommy KeelerCorrespondent IIIMay 1, 2012

KEY BISCAYNE, FL - MARCH 29:  Maria Sharapova of Russia celebrates match point against Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark during Day 11 at Crandon Park Tennis Center at the Sony Ericsson Open on March 29, 2012 in Key Biscayne, Florida.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
Al Bello/Getty Images

Maria Sharapova and Rafael Nadal's wins last week in Stuttgart, Germany, and Barcelona came in very different ways. Sharapova had to struggle to get through her tournament, gutting out some big wins. Nadal was his usual clay-court self. He made the game look easy as he took apart most of his opponents with ease.

The bottom line is they each got the job done. The real question is, does this mean that each of them are back to where they once were?

Sharapova was once on top of the world. In 2008 at the age of 20, she appeared to be the next great champion in the game. By March of 2008, Sharapova had already won three majors and was ranked No. 1 in the world. It appeared the sky was the limit for her.

Then she suffered a torn rotator cuff in her shoulder and had to miss nine months on the tour. When she came back, her serve was not the same, which is normal after a serious shoulder surgery.

There were many who believed that Sharapova would never get back to the top or be the same again. However, over the last year, her game has started to get back to where it was.

In the last year, she's made it to the semifinals of the French Open and the finals of Wimbledon and the Australian Open.

This season she's played in five events making it to the final in four of them and has been a solid No. 2 in the world behind Victoria Azarenka.

Last week, she served about as well as she has in a long time, including eight aces in the final. Sharapova's serve has always been a key to her success.

Is she back where she once was—at the very top of the game? Only time will tell. But she could move back to the No. 1 ranking in the next couple weeks, and she is definitely a major contender at the grand slams for the rest of the year.

Nadal's story is a little different. His win last week wasn't much of a surprise. It was his seventh title in Barcelona, and he's certainly the favorite to win his seventh at the French Open in May.

Nadal was on top of the tennis world when he won three of the four slams in 2010. Then last year, Novak Djokovic knocked him off his throne.

Djokovic had a season to remember and played unbelievable tennis. Djokovic also dominated Nadal last year winning every match the two played.

It looked as if the trend was going to continue this year when Djokovic again beat Nadal in the Australian Open.

However, two weeks ago, Nadal finally beat Djokovic. Of course, it was on clay. Nadal backed up that title with another one last week in Barcelona.

Clearly Nadal is still the king of clay. It remains to be seen whether he's ready to knock Djokovic off his current pedestal. Wimbledon and the Olympics should give us a good idea as to whether Nadal is ready to get back on top.

Sharapova and Nadal have both taken steps toward returning to where they once were. The next step will be the biggest and toughest one yet.