Maria Sharapova opened play at the Australian Open Monday afternoon in Melbourne and didn’t miss a beat.
Playing her first match of 2013, she opened with a dominant display, dispatching countrywoman Olga Puchkova 6-0, 6-0 in less than an hour.
Decked in a light yellow Nike dress, Sharapova shook off notions of not being 100 percent healthy after pulling out of the Brisbane Tournament earlier this month.
“I didn’t want to concentrate on the fact I hadn’t played a lot of matches, I just wanted to focus on what was ahead of me and really be aggressive,” said Sharapova via ESPN.
Though it’s a long road ahead, after Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka, Sharapova is the third favorite for the title. Lucky for her, she doesn’t have to face either of them before the final.
Unlucky for Sharapova, is the fact that she is headed on a collision course with Venus Williams and will most likely meet in the third round.
Although some of the following points were displayed yesterday in her opening round, here is what Sharapova must do if she wants Aussie Open title number two.
If one were to watch highlights of Sharapova’s 2008 Australian Open run, you would see a much more aggressive Russian. When she defeated world No.1 Justine Henin in the quarterfinals (in straight sets) she moved one of the greatest defenders off the court by hitting powerful open stance groundstrokes down the line.
Sharapova went for her shots that night and in the latter stages of the tournament—which led to Grand Slam title number three.
Since coming back from her shoulder woes, the aggressive game has been mostly dormant.
At last years US Open, Sharapova played aggressive against Azarenka but let her nerves creep in as Azarenka finished her off in the third set.
Sharapova looked great in her first round match and will need that aggressive game plan to move past Venus and into the second week.
This is a no-brainer, but if Sharapova wants to most likely get through two Williams sisters, she will need a high first serve percentage because Venus and Serena can rip return winners. And will have to keep the double faults to a minimum. Sharapova should also be practicing her wide serve to, again, move her opponents off the court and can set up for an easy put away shot.
Most importantly, Sharapova has to remember that she can beat the world’s best on the biggest stages. Though the last time Sharapova beat Serena was in 2004 and was demolished in the 2012 Olympics—remember that she put up a good fight against Serena in last season's Istanbul final.
If history can teach us anything, look at her 2007 results. Sharapova lost a tight contest with Henin at the Tour Championships only to come back in January and best her at the 2008 Australian Open.
Even if Sharapova can pull all of this off, it’s still hard seeing her beat Serena. She might take comfort that these two have not met at the Australian Open since 2007 and therefore haven’t exchanged shots on the plexicushion.
The Australian Open is Sharapova’s best tournament (81 percent win percentage) and will hopefully give viewers a good match in the final rounds.
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