It's been over seven months since Maria Sharapova won the French Open, completing the career Grand Slam.
Since then, she's lost in the fourth round of Wimbledon to Sabine Lisicki and lost in the semifinals of the U.S. Open to world No. 1 Victoria Azarenka.
It's hard to imagine that Sharapova is only 25 years old, especially given that she's been playing on the pro circuit since 2001. But age, as they say, is just a number, and the more important number is 2001.
Sharapova has endured a great deal of injuries throughout her career (her serve will never be the same), and she entered the 2013 Australian Open dinged up. That's more telling than the fact that she's still in her mid-20s.
Like Rafael Nadal, the mid-20s for Sharapova seem more like the early 30s. When she should still have a few years to look forward to on the circuit, that's not quite the case. She is limited physically now, so she must win tournaments with her experience and her grit.
Sharapova predictably breezed past Olga Puchkova in the first round of the Australian Open, but we all know that she's good enough to do that. It's what she does against the top competition that matters.
The way that Sharapova went out against Azarenka in the U.S. Open last year was telling for me. She won the first set, 6-3, then lost the last two sets in heartbreaking fashion. It was the sign of a younger (and better) player overcoming Sharapova's willpower.
But Sharapova's willpower is what will keep her going despite her physical limitations. It is what boosted her to a historic victory at the French Open last year. Like so many memorable players before her, Sharapova has that innate ability to grind out victories and, yes, Grand Slam singles titles. She is not the best player on the circuit anymore (she may even agree with this), but that hardly matters to her.
If Sharapova was done, she wouldn't have won the French Open last year. It's that simple. She has players such as Azarenka and Serena Williams in her way these days, but the historic players simply find a way to win despite the obstacles.
Sharapova isn't going to rattle off Grand Slam singles titles at this point in her career, but capturing one or two more isn't out of the question.
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