It has been six years since a 17-year-old starlet named Maria Sharapova cemented her name in Wimbledon folklore by becoming the third youngest player to ever win in SW19.
The Russian teenager picked up her first Grand Slam title by upsetting defending champion Serena Williams, setting herself on the very real path of super stardom.
2004 proved to be Sharapova's breakout season and her star continued to shine, culminating in two more Grand Slam wins at Flushing Meadows and the Australian Open.
Now, on the weekend before Wimbledon gets underway, Sharapova is back in London and ready to end the Williams' dominance.
It's not going to be easy, but if you look at her chances in a positive light, there are reasons to be optimistic. Here are five reasons why Sharapova could repeat her 2004 success.
Sharapova has a game that is well-suited to grass.
Her serve, while not as powerful as it once was, is still one of her biggest advantages. Even though it has lost a bit of bite, it's less erratic and more reliable.
A lot depends on her ability to serve consistently, and if she hits her spots there's no reason to think she needs to go back to the more constricted motion.
This service action was originally introduced to create less moving parts in the serve, but she shouldn't feel the need to add a couple extra miles-per-hour to her booming weapon at the expense of double faults.
Following on from her serve is a barrage of powerful baseline shots. She seems perfectly at home on the grass and the harder courts, and the faster the pace of the court, the better.
Her flat backhand is a key asset, as is her cross-court forehand which sets up a number of freebie points. She can inject her own pace into the ball, and if she can get to the net early and often she will show you just what a good finisher she is.
Sharapova has had a pretty low-key 2010 so far, highlighted by early exits at the Australian Open (to Maria Kirilenko 7-6, 3-6, 6-5) and French Open (to Justine Henin 6-2, 3-6, 6-3).
Other than that though, she hasn’t been too poor. She picked up titles at Memphia and Strasbourg as the top seed and she looked good on the grass of Birmingham until the final set of the championship match with No. 1 seed Na Li.
It’s generally important to get as much match practice as you can when you’re heading into a grand slam on a new surface, and considering Birmingham was Sharapova’s only grass court warm-up between Roland Garros and Wimbledon, a deep run, even though it ended with a defeat--was key.
For what it’s worth, when Sharapova won in SW19 in 2004, she also made it to the finals in Birmingham after losing at the French Open.
Sharapova is one of just four different women to win Wimbledon since the turn of the decade, and one of just a dozen different women to win it within the last 30 years. She is in pretty good company.
She's 25-6 lifetime at Wimbledon and 56-11 in her grass court career, so it’s safe to say that she knows what she is doing when it comes to performing well on the green stuff.
Yes, 2004 was a long time ago, but you can’t underestimate just how important winning a grand slam for the first time is for a players’ confidence. Sharapova made it through to the quarterfinals without dropping a set, and in both her quarterfinal with Ai Sugiyama and semifinal with Lindsay Davenport, she fought back from a set down.
Knowing she can beat Serena Williams in a final won’t hurt either.
In total, Sharapova has made it to the quarterfinal stage of 10 different Grand Slam tournaments, including four semi finals and three finals.
I mentioned the draw as a factor above, and her experience will set her in good stead here, too. She beat the Nos. 1, 3, and 4 seed in winning the 2008 Australian Open and the top two seeds back to back at the ’06 US Open.
She may have to beat the Nos.1 , 3, 7, and 2 seeds to win Wimbledon in 2010.
If one of the Williams sisters does not win Wimbledon this year, there’s a pretty good chance that the eventual winner will have to have defeated at least one, possibly even both of them, to claim to famous Championship plate.
If there is anything at all to take from being in the same quarter of the draw as Serena Williams it is that Sharapova gets to face her early.
Listen, if you have ambitions of being the champion, you need to be able to beat the best in the game. For the Russian, it’s probably best to face Serena sooner rather than later. Once she is into her stride she is very difficult to beat.
To put it another way, there are no easy fourth-round matches if the top seeds progress as expected.
The draw will help Sharapova get into her top gear early. Playing Kateryna Bondarenko first will mean she has to hit her stride early, which should carry her through whoever she faces in the second round.
Rightly or wrongly, Sharapova will go into Wimbledon probably with the least amount of hype and expectation since winning it six years ago.
She was seen by many as a favorite to repeat in 2005, and expectations were extremely high again in 2006 after runs to the semifinals and fourth round in the Australian and French Opens respectively.
She was the No. 2 seed for the second time in three years in 2007 after reaching the final in Melbourne and making it to the semis on the red clay of Roland Garros, and she entered the 2008 grass court season as world No. 2 after winning her first Australian Open.
Expectations were a little lower in ’09, but that was because of a nine-month lay-off due to a shoulder injury rather than a lack of form, which brings us to 2010.
Since here victory here in 2004, never has Sharapova entered Wimbledon having failed to reach at least the quarterfinal of one of the two preceding grand slams.
The eyes of the tennis world will be on the Williams sisters, Caroline Wozniacki, Kim Clijsters, and Co. instead of her for once. While she won’t go unnoticed, the scrutiny and pressure will be far less intense.