One of the tennis world’s stunning beauties, the long-legged Russian Maria Sharapova, found her on-court fortunes faded as she struggled to rebuild her fractured career a year ago. Sharapova will resume her continued climb back to the top of the game this week in the tournament held at Stanford on hard courts.
She comes into Stanford as the No. 5 seed and will meet Jie Zheng in the first round. Sharapova, if she survives beyond her opening match, could meet wild card Dinara Safina or the No. 2 seed Elena Dementieva in the third round. It promises to be an exciting tournament.
At age 23 and currently ranked world No. 15, it seems Sharapova has been around forever. But that is because she has been playing tennis since age 14, winning her first grand slam title at Wimbledon at age 17. Known for her shrieking and her aggressive style of play, Sharapova has been a staple on the women’s tour for the last six years.
The Russian’s chronic shoulder problems resurfaced in 2008 shortly after she resumed the WTA No. 1 ranking with the retirement of Justine Henin. Soon after this juncture Sharapova and her team finally decided upon surgery. It meant Sharapova would be idle for ten months unable to wield a racket.
When Sharapova returned to the tour in May of 2009 ranked No. 126 in the world, she was forced to learn to serve all over again with a more compact service motion. Her game was plagued with double faults.
Many players with less resolve would have given up long ago but that is not part of the Russian’s makeup. She refuses to quit in any circumstance.
As one of the most recognized faces in the sports world, Sharapova has the poise and the looks to make it financially without every lifting another tennis racket. But her dream has always been to win, placing herself at the top of the women’s game in tennis. It has been her lifelong ambition since she came to the Unites States with her father at age six in 1994 to enroll in the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Florida.
Sharapova exudes confidence on and off court. This is a direct result of her early life deprivation, including the struggle to overcome and adjust to strange surroundings. Moreover, Sharapova survived with a mental toughness she masks with humor and quiet resolve.
The Russian reigns tall at 6 feet 2 inches. An aggressive baseliner, Sharapova plays right-handed with a two-handed back-hand. Her true power, however, comes from her swing volley when approaching the net or detouring lobs. She plays the angles, sharp and deep with tremendous power and accuracy. In 2008 we saw the addition of a selected sliced backhand and experiments with a drop shot.
Sharapova’s arsenal includes a powerful first and second serves. Previously Sharapova had served in excess of 120 MPH, counting on service winners or weak responses to allow her to take control of the ensuing rally.
Her serve has always been the integral ingredient in her success. By changing her service motion, utilizing a more compact back swing, Maria hoped to reduce the stress on her shoulder—but her serve remained fairly ineffective and her game suffered. During the 2008 French Open, she served 43 double faults. Without her vaunted serve, Sharapova’s confidence swoons.
Now as her serve is gradually returning to its origin form and resembles the serve she delivered before surgery, Sharapova’s success continues to climb. Currently ranked No. 15, Sharapova is hoping to make it back into the top ten.
Favoring the liquid surfaces—hard court and grass, her game comes alive as the balls fly fast and hard. She has not, however, done well on clay and feels uncomfortable trying to slide on the surface—calling her movements akin to a “cow on ice.”
Although she finally won an event on clay in 2008, the French Open still remains the only major she has not captured.
In 2004 Sharapova won Wimbledon and finished the year ranked No. 4. She won five titles that year.
Also finishing 2005 ranked No. 4, she became the highest ranked Russian for the first time in her career and she was the only player on the women’s tour to reach three grand slam semifinals. Holding the No. 1 ranking for one week beginning on August 22, 2005, she reclaimed it and held it for six weeks starting in September.
In 2006 Sharapova won the U.S. Open and climbed to world No. 2. An injury-riddled 2007, however, saw Sharapova fall to No. 5 in the world. She was no longer the top ranked Russian, that honor went to Svetlana Kuznetsova.
She tore through the best competition they could throw at her, winning the 2008 Australian Open in convincing fashion. Relishing every bite, she chewed up the best and spit them out one after another.
Seeded No. 1 at the French Open after Henin’s retirement, Sharapova lost to Dinara Safina in the fourth round. After her loss in the second round at Wimbledon in 2008 and a subsequent loss at the Rogers Cup, Sharapova was absent from the tour. Tests revealed that she had been suffering from a torn rotator cuff since April of 2008.
After the way she challenged Serena Williams during the fourth round of Wimbledon this year, belief has returned that the tall and agile Russian can recapture the magic that made her a champion. She can prove it and make her dreams come true at the 2010 U.S. Open. It all begins this week in Stanford.
As the Ladies of the Court try to regain former triumphs, look forward to the next installment—Ana Ivanovic.