Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Early Impressions: Maria Sharapova

It's been fascinating seeing Sharapova back in action this week.

To be honest I wasn't expecting too much when I heard of her decision to enter Warsaw, a tournament I only remember from last year because of the way Nikolay used it to get out of playing grass court tennis.

I wasn't too thrilled by the idea of staging a comeback from injury on as injurious a surface as clay, but it was in some sense understandable by the way in which it was fulfilling a need to get some matches in ahead of Roland Garros.

Seems I needn't have worried. I didn't see all of her opening match against the Italian Tathiana Garbin; the portions I did catch looked painfully one-sided, and even though I subsequently heard it took her three sets to close out the victory, I wasn't that concerned - one look at those groundstrokes caused most of my reservations to dissipate. But let me tackle this in some sort of order.

The service actions changed (again). Gone is the old swirly take back, and in it's place a considerably more abbreviated Henin-like motion. Obviously intended to reduce strain on the bandaged shoulder. The significant reduction in pace was a little concerning - in her first match she looked to be serving at little more than around 65%.

Again, I needn't have worried. If today's performance (a straight sets dismissal of Belarusian Darya Kustova, with a bagel to boot) is anything to go by it seems she's taking an incremental match-by-match approach to feeling her way back into her game. What else did I expect?

There was also a noticeable reluctance to taking on any overheads that came her way - uneasy feel on those she did manage to put away.

But those groundstrokes are as potent as they ever where. Or were they? I'd argue more so. It may be that my memory has been affected by the length of time she's spent away from the game, it may be that they look more scary juxtaposed as they are alongside that less intimidating serve, but there seems to be more energy being put into every shot, more noise emitted when racquet meets ball. Whatever it is it's flattening the rest of the competition which is admittedly very tier-3.

And therein lies the only dampener in this whole affair. She had been due to take on Wozniacki in the 2nd round before she pulled out with a back injury, as did Sabine Lisicki and #1 seed Agnieszka Radwanska.

On the basis of the form she showed in her opening match, I didn't think Maria would be out of place in the top twenty - even with that serve. But what would have been a better way to get an insight into where her game really is than a matchup with as compelling a top tenner as Wozniacki?

(Photo: AP via Yahoo! Sports)
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