8. At Home on the Grass: Sharapova’s Surface of Choice
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In 2011, even playing on clay did not seem to ruffle the feathers of Maria Sharapova.
She advanced to the semifinals of the 2011 French Open before falling to the eventual championship Li Na of China. But the grass and the hard courts are the Russian’s true forte.
Currently the favorite to win the 2011 Wimbledon championship, Sharapova must be regarded the front-runner because grass is conducive to the strength of her game.
The Russian serves big and is not afraid to move forward and be aggressive when it is necessary.
She won the title in 2004 and has not been back to a final since then. Sharapova, however, made the semifinals in both 2005 and 2006, losing to the eventual champions Venus Williams and Amelie Mauresmo respectively.
This year, Sharapova plans to make that final appearance once again on the grass of Centre Court.
7. Sharapova’s Life-Long Desire to Be the Best
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What Sharapova wanted to accomplish most at this point in her life was to win and reestablish herself at the top of the women’s game in tennis.
It has been Sharapova’s life long dream since she journeyed to the Unites States with her father at age six in 1994 to attend the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Florida.
Although she is famous for her beauty, sought after for modeling and commercials, which bring her considerable fame and wealth, winning Wimbledon in 2011 would bring Sharapova back to the place where the 17-year-old Russian began her glorious tennis career.
At age 24, winning Wimbledon for a second time would place Sharapova once again at the top of women’s tennis–– a successful conclusion to her goal to reclaim being the best.
6. Don’t Talk About Me When I’m Gone: The Absence of the Williams Sisters
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While it was a shock to the tennis-playing world that Venus and Serena Williams went out in the third round, it had to be a huge relief to the women who remained in the draw.
The two women who had won nine of the last eleven titles at the All-England Club were now out of the picture.
This would be especially favorable to Maria Sharapova, who might have met Serena Williams in the semifinals.
Instead the Russian will face unseeded Sabine Lisicki, who may have a very powerful serve, but whose experience in the late stages of majors is nil.
Sharapova lost to Venus Williams in the 2005 Wimbledon semifinals and during the fourth round in 2007. She also lost to Serena Williams during the fourth round in 2010.
This year Sharapova has no further opportunity to meet a Williams sister at the All England Club.
5. Sharapova’s 10-Plus Years of Experience
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Standing 6’2”, Maria Sharapova is 24 years of age. It seems like the Russian beauty has been around forever.
That is because Sharapova has been winning majors since she was 17 years of age, turning professional a decade ago.
Sharapova won her first major at Wimbledon in 2004 defeating Serena Williams in straight sets, 6-1, 6-4.
Her second major came at the U.S. Open in 2006 with Sharapova upending Justine Henin, 6-4, 6-4.
Finally Sharapova won her third major at the Australian Open in 2008 when she outplayed the Serb Ivanovic, 7-5, 6-3.
And 2011 will mark Sharapova’s ninth try at the Wimbledon Championships. So far, she has defeated fellow Russian Anna Chakvetadze, Brit Laura Robson, Czech Klara Zakopalová and Shuai Peng to reach the quarterfinals for the first time 2006.
In one hour Sharapova dismantled Slovakian Dominika Cibulkova 6-1, 6-1 in their quarterfinal matchup.
The Russian will play Sabine Lisicki in the semifinal where her superior experience should give her a huge edge in the match.
4. The Vacuum at the Top: Sharapova’s Current Level of Competition
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With the on-again, off-again status of the Williams sisters, whose appearances on the tennis stage are few and far between, there has been no dominating player winning majors lately.
Venus is currently 31 and Serena will turn 30 later this year. In addition to their frequent absences, they may not bounce back quite as quickly as they once did.
Kim Clijsters, the current world No. 2, had won the two most recent majors on hard courts before suffering a severe ankle sprain that kept her out of the French Open and now out of Wimbledon.
Clijsters seems to be hinting at retiring again after the 2012 Summer Olympics to be held in London.
Since Henin’s retirement—besides bouncing the No. 1 ranking around like a basketball during a warm up drill—the majors have been primarily dominated by Serena Williams, except for the French Open.
During this same period newcomers Caroline Wozniacki, Vera Zvonareva and Victoria Azarenka have risen to the top while former newcomers Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic suffered a Serbian slump and Russian Dinara Safina melted away.
None of these women have won majors except Ivanovic who won the French Open in 2008.
The women’s top spot is ready for a more dominating force––it is ready for Sharapova to regain her edge and take the No. 1 ranking back again.
3. The True Grit of Women’s Tennis: Sharapova’s Perseverance
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Many other high-profile players may not have stuck it out waiting for her shoulder to heal and for her game to return to where it was before shoulder surgery. It would have been easier to call it quits on the tennis career.
The Russian Sharapova went out with a shoulder injury after the 2008 Wimbledon Championships. She returned full time to the tour just prior to the 2009 French Open, where she did exceptionally well after being out of action for such an extended period.
During her absence, however, Sharapova’s ranking dropped out of the top 100, falling as far as No. 126.
Speculation continued about her ability to return to action at all—further, that at age 22 her career might be over. Certainly a shoulder injury would weaken her serve—the essential piece of her game.
By changing her service motion, utilizing a more compact backswing, Maria hoped to reduce the stress on her shoulder—but her serve remained fairly ineffective and her game suffered.
Since her return to the game in 2009, Sharapova has struggled while working hard on her game, improving week by week.
Her double fault totals continued to astound the commentators; but, Sharapova never quit in her attempt to regain her serve and make her way back to the top of the women’s game.
Her decision to fight her way back into form is now big paying dividends.
2. Sharapova Celebrates The Return of Her Serve
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Sharapova’s tennis arsenal is built upon a powerful first and second serve. The Russian has blasted serves in excess of 120 mph, counting on service winners and their subsequent weak responses to allow her to take control of the ensuing rally.
Her serve has always been the springboard for the rest of her game.
When Sharapova suffered a rotator cuff tear back in 2008, it reduced the effectiveness of her serve. The result was an overabundance of double faults as the Russian struggled to put the ball in play.
The source of her problem, however, was not discovered until late summer of 2008. Eventually, surgery on the shoulder required a long layoff from tennis.
For a long time, the tennis world speculated about the ability of Sharapova to maintain her place at the top of the women’s game. Without her serve, the Russian’s game went nowhere.
The tennis media began to wonder about Sharapova’s ability to return to the game at all––was she at age 22 finished in tennis? Certainly the shoulder injury had to weaken her serve—the essential piece of her game.
Since her return to the game, Sharapova has struggled with double faults and unforced errors.
But lately, the serve of old has reemerged and her tenacity in the pocket, going for the big serve has seen Sharapova shoot back up the rankings ladder.
The serve is back, and just in time for the 2011 Wimbledon Championships.
1. Sharapova’s Biggest Weapon is Her Mental Edge
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Of the women’s top-ranked players today, very few, apparently, possess enough mental fortitude to grab a major mantle and hold on to it, except perhaps the long-legged Russian, Sharapova.
The Russian plays right-handed, employing a two-handed backhand. Much of her power comes from her non-traditional swing volley when approaching the net.
She plays with enormous aggression going for her shots regardless of the score. Sharapova never gives in to any situation on court with a safe “not to lose” attitude. She goes for her shots.
Favoring the liquid surfaces—hard court and grass—her game comes alive as the balls fly fast and hard.
Enhanced by deceptive foot speed, Sharapova plays the angles, sharp and deep with tremendous power and accuracy. In 2008, she added a sliced backhand and experimented with a drop shot.
Plus, she never quits. Sharapova never gives up on a set, a game or a point. She fights completely committed for every moment the ball is in play.
If she double faults or gets a bad call, Sharapova is not deterred––she does not get down on herself or discouraged. She simply reloads and moves on.
No one has a greater will to win enhanced by the ability to concentrate solely on the point at hand than Sharapova. That is mental fortitude and you need a large supply of it to win championships.