The U.S. Open has been Maria Sharapova's worst Grand Slam tournament as her career has gone on. Absent an intimidating serve, the hard courts don't suit Sharapova as they did in her earlier days as a pro, so her loss to Caroline Wozniacki in the fourth round at Flushing Meadows doesn't come as a total shock.
Wozniacki defeated Sharapova in three seats on Sunday:
Sharapova is at her best on clay, where she's won two of the past three French Open titles and made the final in the year she didn't take home the trophy in Paris. However, she is undoubtedly one of the biggest names in women's tennis, and has the gritty, competitive streak to go with her star power.
Not long before the U.S. Open got underway, Ben Rothenberg of The New York Times documented what French Open finalist Simona Halep said regarding Sharapova's on-court conduct:
The deliberate style Sharapova has is also what allows her to be so focused on the task at hand and battle for every point. No matter if she doesn't quite have her best tennis on a particular day, Sharapova is always going to be a tough out, especially in a major tournament.
But after approximately a month off following Wimbledon, it appeared Sharapova was flat in her return to competition in Montreal, per Matt Cronin of USTA.com:
At this juncture, there isn't much else for Sharapova, 27, to accomplish. She already has the career Grand Slam and could easily walk away with a magnificent legacy. A troublesome shoulder injury that has plagued her for years caused her to withdraw from last year's U.S. Open and is a perpetually lingering concern with regard to her form.
With all that in mind, just because Sharapova isn't quite as formidable on the hard court doesn't mean she should be counted out on faster surfaces moving forward.
With time to rest for the start of the 2015 season comes the chance for Sharapova to come back at Melbourne Park refreshed and ready to compete for the top prize at the Australian Open. The hard-court slate can be grueling. Even with the layoff and two starts before the U.S. Open, Sharapova wasn't quite major-ready in New York.
The lack of firepower Sharapova generates now, particularly with her serve, forces her to become a better all-around player. For a player of her height, she is a great mover on the court, so she will grind and definitely be a factor at the Australian Open.
Sharapova made the final in Melbourne as recently as 2012. Health permitting, she has the game to get there once again in 2015—perhaps to win her sixth major title and second Australian Open. This setback at the U.S. Open will then be viewed in retrospect as a setback that may have fueled Sharapova to further greatness and improving her place in the all-time lore of women's tennis.