Are Maria Sharapova's Best Days Behind Her?

Jesse MotiffSenior Analyst IJanuary 18, 2010

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 18:  Maria Sharapova of Russia reacts after a point in her first round match against Maria Kirilenko of Russia during day one of the 2010 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 18, 2010 in Melbourne, Australia.  (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)
Mark Kolbe/Getty Images

A female tennis player named Maria winning a first round match in a Grand Slam tournament is hardly newsworthy. The fact that it was Maria Kirilenko, a player that has never made a Grand Slam quarterfinal, is surprising. Her achieving that victory over former number one player in the world and multi-time Grand Slam winner Maria Sharapova is shocking.

Sharapova's stunning loss is the first time she has been defeated in the first round of a Grand Slam tournament since the 2003 French Open. It also served as her first loss at the Australian Open since she won the title in 2008.

Only once in the past year has Sharapova reached the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam tournament when she did so at the French Open last year. She lost in the second round at Wimbledon and the third round at the US Open after being ousted by Melanie Oudin.

In the loss to Oudin, she served 21 double faults and made 60 unforced errors. Sharapova faced similar problems with Kirilenko, making 77 unforced errors. Included in that are double-digit double faults on a serve that has become inconsistent at best.

With such an untrustworthy serve and a very erratic forehand, one must wonder if Maria Sharapova is on the downside of a once promising career.

It's hard to imagine a 22-year-old athlete being on the downside of her career, especially someone that has won three of the four major titles, but Sharapova is in danger of sliding back to the pack of women's tennis and not being one of the leaders.

Sharapova still shows great fight on the court, but heart can only get a player so far against the very best in the world.

To compete against the best, she needs to make a change to her much criticized serve. Her ball toss is far too high and she'll need to relinquish her past stubbornness on changing the toss in order to have a more consistent serve.

Her fitness level is fine, given the fact that she was able to compete in a three hour and 22 minute marathon against Kirilenko. She was able to track down most balls hit her way as well.

Sharapova just signed a new $70 million contract with Nike prior to the tournament, and she is still one of the most marketable faces in tennis, not just the women's game. She is still very talented and young even to still win several more major titles in her career.

If she wants to achieve even greater heights than she has in the past, she needs to combine smarts to go along with her mental toughness and physical tools. That means a change to her serve. Hopefully, pride doesn't get in the way of her game and Maria Sharapova can once again reign atop the world on women's tennis.