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US Open Rumors: Is Maria Sharapova's Career on the Way Down?

Jaideep Vaidya@@jaideepjournoAnalyst IAugust 3, 2011

STANFORD, CA - JULY 29:  Maria Sharapova of Russia serves to Serena Williams during the Bank of the West Classic at the Taube Family Tennis Stadium on July 29, 2011 in Stanford, California.  (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Maria Sharapova’s ouster at the hands of a resurgent Serena Williams at the Bank of West Classic in Stanford legitimizes growing concerns that the Russian’s career is heading in the wrong direction.

Serena Williams, playing her third tournament since winning the 2010 Wimbledon, made an outright mockery of the world No. 5. Williams needed just over an hour to demolish Sharapova 6-1 and 6-3.

As a huge Sharapova fan, I was bitterly disappointed and shocked with this exceptionally meek surrender. About three weeks ago, I even wrote an article reasoning why Sharapova is on her way back to No. 1 following her solid French Open and Wimbledon performance.

I thought this would be a good time to test how good I am at contradicting myself.

Sharapova has come a long way since winning the 2004 Wimbledon as a bubbly 17-year-old. She is a former world No. 1, a consistent top-10 player and has won three Grand Slams to date. Her last Grand Slam triumph came at the 2008 Australian Open where she went through the entire tournament without dropping a single set.

But later that year during the Rogers Cup, Maria started experiencing a throbbing in her right shoulder. A subsequent MRI scan revealed that she had a rotator-cuff tear.

Maria, the fighter that she is, braved through the surgeries and the recuperation program that followed. She had to make adjustments to her service motion and employ a more compressed back swing to relieve the stress off her shoulder.

Unfortunately, her much-feared serve—which was her trump card—was gone.

After a long dry-spell in which her game was hampered by numerous double faults, Maria decided to get a grip on her career prior to the 2011 season. She changed her coach and acquired a new hitting partner.

Sharapova then started showing signs of improvement but struggled with her consistency. It took a fourth-round exit at the Australian Open and an ear infection for her to start showing some positive results.

Sharapova’s serve started getting stronger as the clay-court season began. A third-round loss at Madrid was quickly forgotten as Maria recorded the biggest clay-court victory of her career by winning the Rome WTA event.

She carried forward her form into the French Open where she was the seventh seed. Still struggling with double faults and unforced errors, she lost in the semifinals to eventual champion Li Na.

Sharapova then coasted through Wimbledon and reached the final without a hitch. But the double faults and unforced errors proved to be her culprits once again as she lost to eighth-seeded Petra Kvitova.

A look at the statistics makes her inefficiency look even more appalling.

At the 2011 Australian Open, Sharapova committed 28 double faults in four matches. In her fourth-round loss to Andrea Petkovic, Sharapova hit only 16 winners while committing 30 unforced errors.

In her French Open semifinal loss to Li Na, Sharapova hit 10 double faults and 28 unforced errors.

At Wimbledon, she committed a whopping 32 double faults before the final. On the big day, she kept the number down to six, but it obviously wasn’t enough.

Evidently, her biggest weakness is the inconsistency of her serve, which ironically used to be her biggest strength.

Sharapova still looks like a virtuoso in the early stages of the tournament, but it’s in the more crucial matches where she falters. Her serves seem to go haywire when she’s under pressure, and this is when she begins to get sloppy and gift points to the opponent.

Being the hard-hitter that she is, Sharapova doesn’t even compromise the power of her second serve.

Against Williams, Sharapova was seen belting down her second serves at near 100mph. This actually does seem like a good ploy against a hard-hitter and returner of Williams’ calibre. But when you’re 0-4 down in a set and piling up the double faults, you’ve got to have a Plan B.

Unless Sharapova can gain control of her serves—and nerves—the road to No. 1 and a Grand Slam title is going to be extremely difficult for the Russian.

Sharapova had it easy in Wimbledon with a relatively straightforward draw right to the final. With the Williams sisters and Kim Clijsters returning to their A game, Sharapova really has a herculean task ahead of her if she still carries hopes of challenging for honors.

The Russian still has the US Open to prove her critics wrong. A win in front of her beloved New York crowd would be a welcomed sight.

Before she can even dream of dropping the lid of the coveted pot on her head again, however, it’s back to the drawing board and the practice courts for the Russian.

One thing’s for sure, it’s going to be one helluva hard-court season!

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