Sharapova V Safina : Why This Encounter Could Play a Key Role in the 2011 Season

Gregory LanzenbergCorrespondent IMarch 15, 2011

PARIS - JUNE 04:  Dinara Safina (L) of Russia is congratulated by Maria Sharapova of Russia during day eight of the French Open at Roland Garros on June 4, 2006 in Paris, France.  (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

While many are talking about Wozniacki, Clijsters, or the Williams sisters to win most of the important tournaments this season, some have forgot to mention Russians Dinara Safina or Maria Sharapova for very good reasons.On Wednesday, both players will have the opportunity to make a statement as they face each other for a place in the quarterfinals of Indian Wells.

As some thought Dinara Safina and Maria Sharapova would never be a major factor in the WTA Tour anymore, both former number one players have the opportunity to shoot down their critics.

Both have suffered major set backs over the past couple of years.

Safina was among the few World number one players to never have won a Grand Slam.

After failing to win a singles match in nearly six months, the 24-year-old has now won twice in a row, one over Indian Wells champion Daniela Hantuchova and most significantly over the number 4 seed Sam Stosur. Safina's victory over the Australian was very important.

"I just want to enjoy the moment," the Moscow native beamed in her press conference. "It wasn't my day for serving, but it might have been from the baseline. I still managed to win a match, which is a good thing. And I stayed tough mentally."

Earlier in the week, Marat Safin's sister admitted having been very close to retiring.
For some reasons it can take just a couple of matches to gain back the positive feelings.

The game was always there but it's always been a matter of being positive when playing the big points, which Safina couldn't do anymore. 

If the former World number one can confirm her victory over Stosur by beating her old rival Sharapova, then there's a good chance she will climb back to a top five position very quickly.

Safina is now ranked world number 109, which is stunning  for a player with such talent.

The same story goes for Sharapova as she is also struggling to find her game back.
As a matter of fact, the problem with the 3-time Grand Slam champion is the consistency of her serve.

If Maria can beat Dinara, her confidence will grow, so will her game, and the chances for her to win such a big event will rise.

Sharapova has had better results than Safina over the past months, with Maria reaching the 4th round of the Australian Open while Dinara was crushed 6-0 6-0 by Kim Clijsters in the first round of the same major.
Moreover, the 16th seed cruised past Aravane Rezai 6-2 6-2 in the previous round.

"It was very different to my first opponent, who made me hit a lot of balls," said Sharapova, who won a near-three hour marathon against Anabel Medina Garrigues in her first round.

"This was someone who could hit a winner from any part of the court really. When she's on, she can be one of the toughest players to play against; she had a lot of errors today, though."

The other significant statistics to take into account is their 3-3 record in head-to-head confrontations.

Although they haven't played since Safina's outstanding 2008 season, in their last match, the 24-year-old won a Roland Garros three-setter decided after the women split tiebreakers in the first two sets. This could be an entertaining train wreck.
However Sharapova is 2-0 on hard courts, those two wins both coming in straight sets.

"Maria is also coming back from an injury, but she's ranked a little higher than me, just a hundred spots," the Moscow native joked in her press conference; Sharapova is actually ranked 90 spots higher at No.18. "She's a great player and a great competitor. I'll do my best and whoever is stronger tomorrow will win."

Meanwhile, Sharapova commented on the former French and Australian Open runner-up's resurgence: "You're never always on a high level. You have to go through these patches of being down and losing matches and going through injuries that sometimes force you out of the game for a while. Thankfully she has a great team around her. "

Both players are little by little coming back to their best after numerous set backs, which is why it's important to get as many victories as possible in order to build some momentum.

Even though the winner of this blockbuster match might not win the tournament, it will play a key role in the up-coming tournaments.