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The Big-Game Girl 07/12/2007 - 8:55 PM

[Ed. Note: Nicholas McCarvel is a summer intern at Tennis magazine, and I was delighted to learn that he's a native of Helena, Montana, a place never far from my my mind and heart. A 21-year old senior and journalism major at Seattle University, Nick has played tennis most of his life - at least when he wasn't shooting out the streetlights in Great Falls or rasslin' Grizzlies up in Glacier. I invited Nick to write a guest post. Here are his thoughts on Maria Sharapova. I think his statistics are very interesting. Hope you give him a western-grade welcome! - PB]

Three years ago, Maria Sharapova won Wimbledon as a starry-eyed teenager. She belted her way past the best in the game, beating Lindsay Davenport and Serena Williams enroute to her maiden Slam victory.  She was a new fish in the sea, eager to swim around the globe, splashing water in the faces of her opponents as she collected a trove of trophies along the way.

75028199 Yet in 2007, after having attained the Number One ranking and a second Grand Slam title (US Open, 2006) Sharapova suddenly began to look more like a fish out of water. The weaknesses in her one-gear game were revealed: the inconsistent serve, a failure to close out big matches and - perhaps most importantly  - an inability to out-think as well as out-hit her opponents.

Sharapova’s flaws were on full display in her 4th round loss to Venus Williams at Wimbledon; she paddled furiously at this rainy Wimbledon, but ended up a  6-1, 6-3 loser to Venus Williams. It was her third-straight Grand Slam embarrassment - there is no other word - in as many majors this year.

Yet Sharapova hasn't floundered in a school of small fish: her first loss of the Slam year was inflicted in Melbourne by Miss Comeback herself, Serena Williams. Sharapova was routed in the semifinals of Roland Garros by green but gifted Ana Ivanovic, and Venus took her turn pounding Sharapova in London. But was less about who she lost to, than how she went down: 6-1,6-2 against Serena. 2 and 1 to Princess Serbia. And 1 and 3 to Venus. She got 10 games: not quite enough to add up to what it takes to win one match.

The curious thing is that Sharapova has been losing more rather than fewer lopsided matches, even as her ranking and status have flourished. In the first five years of her career, she failed to win at least four games on just eight occassions (WTA Tour matches). This year alone, she has lost four matches that decisively. Here's the rec


Year/Tournament                     Round               Opponent                       Score

2002 Indian Wells                      R64           Monica Seles (4)                   6-0, 6-2
2003 Seat Open Luxembourg      SF            Kim Clijsters (2)                    6-0, 6-3
2004 Indian Wells                      R16          Anastasia Myskina (5)            6-2, 6-1          
2004 FRENCH OPEN                   QF            Paola Suarez (14)                  6-1, 6-3
2004 China Open Beijing            SF            Svetlana Kuznetsova (5)         6-2, 6-2
2005 Indian Wells                      SF            Lindsay Davenport (1)            6-0, 6-0
2005 Tour Championships          RR            Nadia Petrova (10)                6-1, 6-2
2006 Pan Pacific Tokyo              SF            Martina Hingis (UR)               6-3, 6-1
2007 AUSTRALIAN OPEN            F               Serena Williams (81)             6-1, 6-2
2007 Sony Ericsson Open           R16           Serena Williams (18)             6-1, 6-1
2007 FRENCH OPEN                   SF             Ana Ivanovic (7)                   6-2, 6-1
2007 WIMBLEDON                     R16           Venus Williams (23)               6-1, 6-3

So what happened to the champion that so many billed to be the future of women's tennis after the 2004 Championships?  Why is her drive to be a dominant champion slowing, perhaps even stalling out ?  Why hasn’t Maria turned her big-money game into a big-match game?

Her downfall is the result of the same ingredients that led to her rise: big strokes and a big game, but nothing more (or less) than that. But when Plan A crashes, then what? That's question to which Maria must find an answer - the way players have found answers to Maria's Plan A.

Sharapova’s inability to be a multi-dimensional player on the tennis court makes her vulnerable to girls who can belt the ball back with equal Oomph! She hasn't adapted to that very well. Venus won Wimbledon by using the whole court with superb angles and terrific serves; she adapted, and relies less on Oomph! than in the past.  Maria is still trying to figure out how to go from big-hitter to switch-hitter.

Recent shoulder problems have hindered Sharapova, and her confidence has taken a hit because of it. But she still seems bent on banging her way through matches instead of trying something different -  venturing to the net, throwing in some spins, or taking a little pace off the ball. For now, if the defending USO champion wants to repeat her title run from 2006, she has a clear mission: add some versatility, both in how she plays and in how she thinks.

Sharapova has proven she’s versatile off the court: she's signed big endorsement deals, posed for magazine covers, and helped develop and launch a perfume line of her own.  But now, she must demonstrate that she has on-court versatility as well: that she can out-think, out-wit and out-last the shark with whom she swims.

The big-game girl needs to answer the big-game question.

-- Nicholas McCarvel


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Posted by Ali C (Allez!) 07/12/2007 at 09:26 PM

Interesting piece, and nice turns of phrase.

At the moment, Sharapova reminds me of a lot of the Japanese baseball pitchers who come over to the US and absolutely dominate in their first major league season. They use spins and deliveries like no one has ever seen, and it baffles hitters.

And then, hitters see them enough, figure them out, and start hitting them all over the place. So you end up with a lot of decent, hard-throwing Japanese pitchers who are middle relievers or number 5 starters for the Colorado Rockies. Only a few adjust and are able to maintain their dominance over hitters.

I bring this up because, like you said, this seems to be the point that Maria is at. She mystified the tour for a few seasons with hard hitting and screaming, but as the top players have played her more, they realize that there's not a lot of depth to her game.

I'm not sure she'll have time to do it this season, but for Maria to stay where she is, she'll need to spend the winter working on some variety in her game. In fact, I don't think she'll be able to defend her US Open title. I think healthy Williams sisters and a healthy Justine are going to boot her out.

And she'd better watch her back, because the Serbs are coming...and we all saw Jelena's display of all-court tennis playing Mixed at Wimbledon. ;)

Posted by zola 07/12/2007 at 09:35 PM

thanks Nicholas. Great analysis.

Sharapova has become a superficial player. Concentrating more on the clothing and appearance than what really matters. Her game.

Posted by gvgirl 07/12/2007 at 09:40 PM

Great first post Nicholas. Welcome! I love Seattle- it's very beautiful in the Summer.

I totally agree that Maria has no "B" game so she can't adjust to much. And with her serving yips it just adds to her recent dilemas.

Posted by Matt Zemek 07/12/2007 at 09:41 PM

Nick:

(CC: Pete)

Well done. I think the Yuri/Michael Joyce braintrust needs to do less micromanaging and find ways to unlock in Maria a willingness to play creatively and not rely solely on pure intensity when the going gets tough in a high-stakes match.

Sharapova, it should be said, has already done far more than the previous Russian lady who grabbed stacks of endorsement deals. But it is indeed true that after the stunning tour de force at Wimbledon in 2004, one should have expected not necessarily more slam titles, but certainly a more layered and ripened style of play.

Quality article, fellow Chieftain/Red Hawk. You make me quite proud.

Signed,

Matt Zemek
Staff Columnist, College Football News dot com
Seattle University Class of 1998
B.A., Journalism
Spectator (student newspaper) Sports Editor, 1996-'98

(PS--I covered tennis better than any other Spectator sports editor in the ten years before or after me... I can say that by looking in the paper's printed hardbound archives. I found out at Seattle U that former Davis Cup captain Tom Gorman went to the school. Having officiated 3-on-3 basketball games at the lovely Seattle Tennis Club, I got to see a treasure trove of tennis photos that naturally included Mr. Gorman. -MZ)

Posted by Rolo Tomassi 07/12/2007 at 09:41 PM

Nicholas - First off, WELCOME, and thanks for eloquently sharing your thoughts on Maria Sharapova, of whom I've long counted myself a fan (though I worry whenever I admit it around these parts), if for no other reason than her fight.

What I find so odd is the peaks and valleys in her playing life. She got to last year's US Open final, beating one of the best in JHH, then got to the next slam final, getting embarrassed by Serena Williams. I don't mind how much money she makes or even that she shrieks all the time, really, but I am getting a little tired of watching her not deal with the parts of her game that are easy pickings for her peers. If she's on fire, it can work - if not - well, you've already explained all that. I'm not sure I agree that simply restoring her confidence wouldn't be enough for her to eke out a few more slam titles (as you point out, she is the defending US Open champ after all)... but a more nuanced, or varied, game sure would make it easier.

As I type this, I realize that I've got just the coach for her: Jimmy Connors!

Posted by mmmm8 07/12/2007 at 09:50 PM

Nice piece. Very on-point.

I think the complete lack of plan B is really behind two factors -

1) the Nick Bolletieri school of tennis and her current coaching staff (i.e. Yuri, who knows Maria and tennis, but is not a professional coahc, and Michael Joyce who's just a Bolletieri extension. She had a bit more variety to her game for a brief period when she was working with Robert Landsdorp in 2005, but she's forgotten all about that.

It would be great for her game to seek outside help, but the main reason she hasn't is the same as the other reason she doesn't have a plan B:

2) She hasn't needed too. Even with her game crumbling and injuries, she got to the AO final and the FO semi on her least comfortable surface. Her losses have been bad, but she can probably blame them on the injuries. In fact, it's quite possible that when the shoulder heals, her serving issues may improve and she'll be producing good results again.

It's really sad, because while I admire a lot of things about Maria, her game is horribly ugly. But I guess it's winning that matters. Part of me wishes that she keeps losing so that it hits her and the camp that a change in her game is needed

Posted by 07/12/2007 at 10:18 PM

Nicely written, Nicholas, and welcome to Pete's TennisWorld Tribe!

Regrettably, I am highly doubtful that Maria will develop a Plan B, or begin to play with her brain. She was raised to pound the ball and not to think. Now, one could say that Monica Seles and Andre Agassi were taught the same philosophy at Nick Bolletieri's Academy in Bradenton, FLorida. But both Seles and Angassi were themselves sensitive souls who had thoughts and who were self-determined poeple. I don't see this in Sharapova. She is Yuri's brainchild all the way. I hope she will prove me wrong, but I'm not holding my breath.

Posted by skip1515 07/12/2007 at 10:26 PM

A sterling first effort, Nicholas, if I may say so.

I remember watching Sharapova play Pierce at the Open (I think) a few years ago, amazed that all Sharapova set out to do was hit Pierce off the court. She succeeded, but man, did it take a lot more calories than hitting a few more balls wider, softer, and with more top.

Didn't she realize Pierce didn't really have any wheels?

Now it's easier to understand why Sharapova didn't see that: she doesn't have any wheels to speak of, either. Her movement is very suspect, though enthusiastic, and crafting a Plan B means being able to move outside the zone where hitting big works best, between the sidelines and just behind the baseline.

Until Sharapova can move wide of the sidelines during a point and recover to the center with ease, and until she has real comfort in moving further forwards than 4 feet (and going to net if it's called for), it's going to be tough to fabricate Plan B.

Davenport, another player who wasn't the best at covering court, had a solid volley to her credit, and better court sense. Plus slightly less extreme grips that let her handle low balls more easily.

Personally, I wish Sharapova well. She's an earnest professional, regardless of what one thinks of her notoriety and soundtrack, and though her game may be limited she's shown that her fighting spirit is not. More footwork and sprinting drills, a little more nuance, and a slight softening of edges during matches, and she'll have a big career to look back upon.

Posted by DMan 07/12/2007 at 10:34 PM

Nicholas,

Very well-written, analyzed, and researched piece on Ms Sharapova. I agree with you and find it quite intriguing how she has gotten blown off the court in a number of big matches recently, including the Miami match vs Serena. What's also interesting is that she has not won a title at all this year, and she is ranked #2. Two of her iwns last year - San Diego and US Open - will come off this summer. Her #2 ranking is in jeopardy. When she won the US Open last year there was a lot of speculation that she would dominate the women's tour. Wishful thinking by some. If anything she has regressed.

Maria does have many flaws in her game. Like Serena, she competes very well, which wins her matches in which she gets outplayed (Patty Schnyder in Paris is an example). Her shoulder is obviously causing problems on her serve, and she has lost a lot of confidence. And her very ugly form on her forehand is forever going to cause her to have upper arm/shoulder problems.

I am reminded of a quote by Maria that she felt as if she were a cow on ice, talking about her clay court movement. She is not elegant at all. Venus is as tall as Maria, and has cat-like movements around the court. Lindsay would sometimes lumber around the court. But Maria at times looks hopeless when she is on the run. She still makes some great gets, but she has no finesse.

She is young, and has the opportunity to work on her game. But she has won Wimbleodn and the US Open, been ranked #1, has a gazillion dollars, and endorsement money that could support a small country. She could easily have a modeling career if she chose. So what is the motivation for Maria to adapt and change her game? That is going to be the question for the rest of this decade.

Posted by rudy3 07/12/2007 at 10:34 PM

Rolo, Yuri and Jimmy Connors? how would that work?

Nice piece Nicholas, thanks. When I read about all the drama with Fed Cup, and Miss Maria, I thought she really has become an island. Who is coaching her now? She would do well to sign Yuri and Michael Joyce up for a season of Amazing Race.

Are you missing the Seattle summer? I went to grad school at U Dub. I miss my attic apartment on the hill. Nothing beats waking up on a morning when the mt. is out! Ah, memories...

Posted by Ren 07/12/2007 at 10:45 PM

Watching Sharapova against V. Williams (4th rnd Wimbie), I saw Maria having great shots that made Venus scampering on court. This means that she still has the game. But, this just comes so rare, that eventually, Venus became the winner. She has the power but such power without guile becomes inutile because the Williams sisters can match this squarely. What Hingis did during her hey days against the Williamses was to use guile for her lack of power against the sisters. Hingis had strategy. Partly, it was because of the Hingis-Williamses rivalry, that somehow, the Williamses learned to be more tactical as they experienced that an average-built Hingis can sometimes tear them apart.

Now, the Williamses' games have variety as we can see in their performances. It gave them results. And Maria can learn from them.

Posted by Miguel Seabra 07/12/2007 at 10:55 PM

Hi Nicholas

The subject is really interesting and I've been working on it as well. As I see it, for the past year or so Maria has been trying to add a new dimension to her game -- you can see a slice here, a drop-shot there, a lob (actually, she made a couple of crucial lobs in that 2004 Wimbledon final against Serena), even a foray to the net or an attempt to serve & volley; from last year's Wimbledon on, she even showed up a lot of variation in her serve with flat, slice or kick deliveries and her successful US summer campaign had a lot to do with the quality of her serve.

But she seemed to lose her serve at the beginning of 2007 and all those sporadic tries to add touch to her game aren't 'gelling'; it's obvious she's been practicing them and she tries to apply that in competition, but everything just seems 'unglued'.

At Wimbledon I even saw her win a point with a classy forehand drop-shot that would make Nalbandian or Moya proud and Federer envy her. She's still a fighter (see the Schnyder match at Roland Garros) but overall nothing seems to work for her against strong opponents on the bigger stages.

I assume that shoulder injury messed up with her serve and her confidence followed. Her serve was a major weapon last year and if her serve isn't working, she's also a lot less confident in her erratic forehand -- hitting it frequently late and with a helicopter-like follow-through.

Maybe the physical training she's been doing in order to be stronger and more muscular affected her shoulder tendons/muscles. The heavy balls used in some tournaments (and Wimbledon is one of them) can make the injury worse; I tried to figure out if she was using a stiff racquet frame and asked her (because the racquet she uses isn't necessarily the same that's advertised), but she answered «I changed some years ago... I try to stay away from stiff equipment» (an answer that was naughtily used by the tabloids the following day...), even though she's been using monofilament strings and they sure are stiff even with lower tensions. My elbow knows it too well...

So, here's the conference room exchange (after her Wimbledon second round match) regarding her trying to be more versatile on court and the equipment issues:

«
QUESTION
You're working the points better. Is it part of that experience?
MARIA SHARAPOVA:
Yeah, definitely.

QUESTION
Or are there specific things that Mike and your dad are working on with you?
MARIA SHARAPOVA:
Well, just realizing that, you know, against those kind of opponents you've got to make them hit another shot, especially in the wind like that. When their game is based on variety and slices, you know, serve and volleying, I think the wind favors more the person that drives the ball, is able to hit through the wind.
So knowing that, I'm a lot more patient. And physically I can withstand it a lot more than I used to. I know even if I play an opponent like that, it goes into the third set, I'm not tired like I used to get.

QUESTION
You hit a perfect forehand dropshot the Spanish way.
MARIA SHARAPOVA:
The Spanish way, okay (laughter).

QUESTION
Have you been specifically practicing these kind of touch shots?
MARIA SHARAPOVA:
No, not really. I mean, I try to incorporate little things in my game. It's not like I hit 200 balls a day of forehand dropshot. You know, it's something that you work on over the years and you add to your game. Sometimes you use it.
I mean, I don't necessarily you're not going to see a lot of that from me. But at certain times, yeah, that's definitely something new. You probably won't see that from me like a year ago.

...

QUESTION
Do you feel more confident in your game now than when you won the title here?
MARIA SHARAPOVA:
It's a different year, different match, different circumstances. You know, you're playing in new surroundings, new Centre Court. It's really hard to compare. I'm definitely confident.
I've played a lot of matches in the last few months. Despite the injury, I still feel like you know, today was a big improvement from my first round. I know it's only going to get tougher from here.
But as long as I keep going out there and enjoying myself as much as I've been doing in the last couple matches, I'll be fine. If it's a bad day, then it's a bad day.

QUESTION
Do you sense this could be your year again?
MARIA SHARAPOVA:
Sure, why not? I try to sense that every year (laughter). You know, and then sometimes you're proved wrong. But, uhm, yeah, I mean, like I said, it's pretty I mean, I'm physically a lot fitter than I was, say, especially when I won it, a lot fitter than I was back then.
When I lost to Venus in '05, that was the first thing that I just told myself. It's tough for me at that level to withstand that level of play for a long period of time. I played a great first set, and then the intensity and level dropped. That's what I'm a lot better at.
I have the confidence on the court when I'm in those situations and when it's tough, I'm able to dig it out, not just mentally but physically as well. So, yeah, that gives me a lot of confidence.

QUESTION
What are your preferences regarding equipment? Do you like stiff racquets, stiff strings? Could it be related to your injury?
MARIA SHARAPOVA:
No, I used to play with a pretty stiff racquet. That's why I changed a couple of years ago. That has helped my game and my arm tremendously. But, no, I try to stay away from the stiff equipment.

QUESTION
And the strings?
MARIA SHARAPOVA:
And the strings? The strings? Well, the strings, it depends on where I'm playing and the circumstances and the tension. Especially here when the balls are so heavy, you want to make sure, especially with my shoulder problems that I'm having, I want to make sure I go a few pounds looser.
You know, I mean, I'm pretty good at being able to control the ball. I mean, I've hit tennis balls since I was four. So, you know, if I need to do that for you know, for injury reasons, I'm pretty easy with that.
»

Then, there are other issues. I guess that when she was younger, she could focus more and get into some sort of trance -- and now she's not doing it that well. She grew up, turned into a woman, became more aware of what's around her and it affected a bit her focus (maybe her major asset).

She's strong-minded and says her tennis career comes in first place; she tries to balance her career with the 'other stuff', but maybe it's getting more and more difficult to deal with fame, fortune and sponsors.

Once I interviewed Eric Van Harpen, who coached several WTA stars such as Kournikova, Conchita Martinez and Patty Schnyder (actually, I interviewed him in Portugal when he came here with a then 15 year-old girl to play a 10.000 USD event; name of the girl: Ana Ivanovic...), and we were discussing the Kournikova subject, how talented and versatile she actually was as a tennis player, and then he tells me: «How could we expect results from her if she had a helicopter waiting for her the minute she finished practice to take her to some party or some publicity stunt?». Maybe that aspect is starting to affect Maria more than she thinks...

Posted by ncot 07/12/2007 at 10:57 PM

when she's really focused, i think she has a chance against the upper echelon of players (venus, serena, justine). she has already beaten each of them once so she certainly knows what to do.

the talented williams sisters's focus on tennis were affected by their outside interests. im thinking the same thing is happening to maria right now.

Posted by Andrew 07/12/2007 at 10:57 PM

Hi Nicholas,

Thanks for writing a sympathetic article about a player many of us see as less than sympathetic.

Sharapova, when she's on, brings two things to a match - powerful, flat groundstrokes and a very strong will to win. But as you write, she's not a multi-dimensional player - indeed, I'm not even convinced that she's a strong one dimensional player, since her movement along the baseline is less strong than many others in the Bollitieri school.

I would be surprised if she's able to meaningfully adapt her game. 95% of what she'll be able to do is already in her strokes. One thing that might change my view is if she began playing doubles. Nadal's net game has improved a lot in the last year, and I credit some of that to his doubles play at Masters and other events.

BTW, great use of stats. Always like to see those...

Posted by Nicholas 07/12/2007 at 11:10 PM

Thanks for the responses and the encouragement, all.

I can't help but call upon Maria's off-court life to make a point about her on-court play: In Sharapova's Canon commercials (now notoriously famous), the company ends each ad with Maria elegantly saying "Make every shot a power shot." It's a catchy play on words, and one that has worked for Canon the last couple of years (just look at their stock).

But while Canon's stock is cashing in on said phrase, Maria's stock is plummeting. She holds true to that statement - to the power shot - too much.

Perhaps looking elsewhere - beyond Captain Yuri - is a good suggestion. Jimmy Connors!?! She'll have to fight Roddick for him. And the difference between Sharapova and Seles and Agassi (other former Bollettieri bangers) is that their games were driven by angles and point-construction, not just hard-hit balls.

Who knew that SU - a traditionally anti-sport school - could produce such sports enthusiasts Matt!?!

Posted by mmmm8 07/12/2007 at 11:14 PM

nice comparison, Nicholas, and so true.


And thanks for the interview, Miguel

Posted by Rolo Tomassi 07/12/2007 at 11:27 PM

Rudy, Nicholas - In case I wasn't clear, the Jimmy Connors thing was a joke - I realized as I was typing that a lot of what I was setting down (game in need of nuance, disappointing slam exits, etc.) could just as easily have been said of Andy Roddick, another flawed player I have a soft spot for. At the end of the day, Maria and Andy play what I think of as "witless" tennis, as opposed to the often jaw-droppingly creative play of JHH, Fed, Nadal, etc, etc, which I guess is the same as the old boxer-fighter contrast.

Nicholas: The Power Show analogy - good one!

Posted by Federer Bhakta 07/12/2007 at 11:39 PM

Both the slams that Sharapova has won, she was the underdog going into the final. And all the 4 big matches that she has lost this year, she was the favourite to win. It is a lot easier to swing freely when you have nothing to lose. I do think the pressure of big moments is getting to her. Plus I don't think her father's yelling and screaming is helping her. The only way she can keep that guy happy is by winning every single match!

Posted by Ginger 07/12/2007 at 11:42 PM

Welcome Nicholas. I enjoyed reading your article. I am not a fan of Maria- I hate the Maria empire and everything associated with it. There are so many girls with better skills and yes, better looks that deserve their day in the sun..
Its hurts to watch Maria play tennis. Her game is ugly and her shriek is uglier.

The only positive thing about Maria is that the game of tennis gets more exposure (such a sad world we live in) because of her. So if she is willing to overcome her serving yips and tones down the shrieking (which will never happen), and helps tennis grow, I am all for seeing Plan B and Plan c..

Posted by Jess 07/13/2007 at 12:11 AM

Welcome Nicholas, great article. It's nice to have tennis fans from this neck of the woods.

It's too bad "Rodapova" or whatever they were called, no longer exists. Conners could coach them both. They could play some mixed doubles, work on the volleys... could you imagine the press they would get? :D

Posted by Matt Zemek 07/13/2007 at 12:25 AM

Nick,

Seattle U has a rich sports history, as I'm sure you know. It's just sad that that heritage got buried in 1980 by Bill Sullivan. Now they're trying to go back to NCAA Division I again.

Need to beef up the ol' facilities there, but I admire the spirit behind the decision.

Posted by mad about fed 07/13/2007 at 01:03 AM

great post nicholas. i've only been here a couple of months myself, is that enough time in to welcome someone? i agree with you analysis of maria.

maria has made statements before about not needing to change anything about her game. i think she is finding out that it takes more than one weapon, ballbashing, to win a tournament.
that match against serena at AO maria looked clueless as to how to deal with serena's all court game. i also agree that she should rethink her coaching situation. everytime maria loses a match and they show yuri's face i always say, "ooooohhh girl you gonna get it". he always looks like in his head he's taking off his belt. players need coaches they can tell what's what and thats hard to do with a parent. although yuri could drive any child to disrespectfulness (that's a word, right?)

tennis is more about mentally acquity than physical although she has proven that ballbashing can win a tournament here and there. but to win consistently on the big occassions she will need a plan B, C and possibly plan D to deal the elite players.

rolo tomassi

***At the end of the day, Maria and Andy play what I think of as "witless" tennis, as opposed to the often jaw-droppingly creative play of JHH, Fed, Nadal, etc, etc*** exactly. although under conners tutelage andy is getting better at the "thinking" thing on court.

another point. the question was asked over and over of the Williamses about their committment to tennis when they were open and honest about their outside interests ie: acting and fashion. i think the same question should be asked of maria. how can player play tennis from january through november and keep up the amount of outside committments that maria has? how and how long can she maintain a life like that and still be physically and mentally fit to play tennis?

Posted by Andrea 07/13/2007 at 01:07 AM

Pete-
Why do you think Maria was able to beat Serena so convincingly at the Wimbledon final in '04? I mean, she owerpowered Serena, out-hit her. It was then that everyone was happy to see someone who could challenge the Williams sisters. Why have things flip-flopped so dramatically that she now loses to Serena 6-1, 6-1?
Are her Robert Landstrop taught strokes the root of the problem? That strange chicken wing forehand?

I just don't understand why her serve that used to be such a weapon, one of the biggest in the game, is now a weakness. Her flat groudstrokes owerpowered everyone in '04 and '05 but now they're nothing special.

On the plus side, in a women's tour that's plagued by injuries, withdrawals, etc, Maria has been the most consistent player. She's always there in the semis, and until this year had no major physical problems. And she had her best result at RG to date.

Posted by Deb 07/13/2007 at 01:18 AM

Nice piece.

I always used to marvel at Steffi Graf and Monica Seles, they never really needed a Game B, their Game A seemed to work so well, really all they seemingly needed was a little more patience at times.

Even so, both tried to work on their weaknesses - top spin backhand, and volleying and both when pushed could change their usual game. Post Graf, Seles, Hingis was the player that people recognised as using multiple game plans throughout any given match, which she needed given the lack of power in her own shots. In all actuality, its probably just that Hingis had a lot of variety in her shot selection, and that enabled her to have the confidence to mix up her shots, making it easier for her to pry at an opponents weakness, by being able to approach it multiple ways.

The same can be said of Henin, and Mauresmo, capable of using all the angles of the court, and varying spins and pace very effectively.

I wonder sometimes if the term 'game plan' is just a catch phrase though. Like I said, Graf and Seles really didn't seem to vary the plan of action against any given opponent too much once a match started. Graf wanted to whack her forehand, and that was the objective most times. Seles wanted to move her opposition out of position via being able to hit the groundies early, and it worked well for years on end.

To me a player doesn't need to have multiple Game Plans for themselves. They need specific game plans to defeat specific opponents. And to be able to outwit and outplay your opposition it requires clean execution (ie. minimise errors) and it requires variety of shots.

The problem with Sharapova in my opinion, is not that she doesn't have a game plan B against the top players. Its that her serve and forehand are not as effective as they used to be. In the case of Graf and Seles, their groundies rarely failed them. In the case of Graf her footspeed rarely failed her, except when she got injured and then yeah opposition pounced on her.

And then there's the lack of variety in Sharapova's strokes. Even if Sharapova did know how to beat the opposition, she can't execute it, because she doesn't have the strokes to do it, or the confidence to use those strokes under pressure situations.

So take away two of Maria's strengths, and suddenly she's left with not much of a defence against the weaknesses in her game. Had Maria more confidence with the other parts of her tennis game, ie. net play, and better movement, maybe some of those score lines wouldn't be so lopsided.

Well I think a few of the youngsters sufferring from lack of variety, not just Sharpova. Which explains why Williams and Henin are dominating still.

They have the variety to include in their Game ie. Game Plan A, and they can execute on Plan A, better than their opposition, without really having to think about Plan B, because its all just one giant Plan. And now I'm talking in riddles. But basically Sharapova doesn't have the shots to cover for the slide in her strengths.

Posted by Samantha 07/13/2007 at 01:22 AM

Ali, I agree, I don't see her defending her USO title. For Sharapova Plan A is hit the ball hard and plan B is hit the ball harder. What she fails to understand is that players like the Williamses feed off the pace of the hard fast balls she loves to hit. Both Williamses have said they "love" to play Maria because of the type of game she plays and this is why her last 3 matches against them have ended in lopsided victories. They don't just beat her, but it's a blow out. Her lack of movement was exposed by Ivanovic at the French and in an interview Ivanovic stated that was her goal in the match. I believe her ego is more hurt then her shoulder. I think Maria believed all the hype from the media and so called tennis experts like Cronin and Austin who picked her for every slam except the French and said she would dominate the game. In her defense, she has accomplished alot, two GS and many smaller titles with a very limited game. I don't watch many of her matches because her style of tennis doesn't appeal to me, but to be fair, she's one of the best ball basher I've seen, if you like that type of tennis. Also, as she has said, I think it's unfair for people to compare her to Kournikova, Maria has her problems, but to me she is nothing like Kournikova because she has proven she can actually win the a title, become number l in the world and win Wimbledon, so the Kournikova comparison are unfair to her.Unlike Kournikova, She has earned the rewards she receives off the court. Is she has good has the hype, of course not, but she does the best she can with a very limited and one dimensional game. The player like Amelie who have so much variety and talent then go through mental walkabout in the middle of big matches are the ones that bother me. I believe that the top players have figured out her game, know how to play her and find her serve much easier to read then say two years ago. As she said of the Williamses, "both of them play me very well". I think this is starting to be a fact for many players. Again, I still thinks she deserves alot of credit for accomplishing so much with so little to her game, it's a testimony to her hard work. Go Justine!

Posted by Samantha 07/13/2007 at 01:38 AM

I forgot to add and kind of supeficial, but I love her clothes, particularly her little black dress at the US open last year, and the FO outfit was great. I love Justine, but her style is to plain for me. I love trendy clothes and Maria has great fashion sense, so I do copy her style on the court. The outfit she wore at the ESPYs was pretty cool. Good luck to her in fixing her game.

Posted by 07/13/2007 at 02:09 AM

Maria's one hell of a grunter though!

Posted by Ren 07/13/2007 at 02:26 AM

Sam, plenty of typos this time. What's wrong?

Posted by Ren 07/13/2007 at 02:31 AM

Sam, plenty of typos this time. What's wrong?

Posted by Andrea 07/13/2007 at 02:32 AM

Samantha-
Yeah, I know it sounds kind of superficial, but I love Maria's outfits too. The red hot one at the U.S Open '04 was my favorite. And the Audrey Hepburn inspired one last year at the U.S Open was nice too. When she first came out, I thought Maria was the whole package, sort of to say. She kind of is, but not really. I think Ana Ivanovic is closer to that.
But I hope Maria fixes her serving dilemma and the other little chinks in her game. She's good for the sport and hope she does well. (Also, hope she figures out which country she wants to play for and comes clean about it!)

Posted by KG 07/13/2007 at 03:03 AM

excellent post Nick. You broke down Maria's game effectively. She really is one dimensional and until she can make some adjustments she's going to continue to be pulverized. And kudos to my fellow posters. Amazing replies.

Andrea, Samantha
I agree too that her fashion sense is nice and most importantly classy unlike past outrageous outfits by our fave girl...we know who..hehe.. . I didn't agree w/ the swan dress tho for wimbledon but overall she's done a good job of it the past 3 yrs or so.

Hate her grunting but this is just me being heavily biased =)

Posted by md 07/13/2007 at 03:03 AM

disagree!
maria sharapova is having a great year in majors
finals australian open (best ever), semis french open (best ever), and loses to eventual champ venus at wimbledon
--md

Posted by superSnark 07/13/2007 at 03:22 AM

nice artile - Maria... Oh Maria. the root of her problem/s is her stiff footwork. She's fine moving left or right a few feet, but once she's streched, she doesn't have the footwork to get in position in time, nor the top-spin to hit safer shots that give her a chance to recover. Her movement is analogous to her whole game - she's stiff, stiff, stiff. Stuck in a way of thinking and playing that can beat most, but fails horribly against the best. Let's not forget - she's 6'2", I dunno if she can move as fluidly as she'll need to beat the best.

Posted by Deb 07/13/2007 at 03:50 AM

Nice post Samantha - the first one I mean, yeah she's tried to make the most of what she has.

For me Sharapova deserves serious credit for winning two Grand Slams. When she's hitting well, and her serve doesn't go missing in action, she is capable of outhitting most opponents.

She can be one dimensional and still beat the top players provided she improves her movement, and she gets on top of that serve of hers. It could be players are reading her serve better, and can anticipate where her shots are going to go. Maybe a little less predictability could help her cause. But yeah if she wanted to be a power hitter, she can continue with the same idea and the same plan in mind, and still be one of the top players, provided she executes to near perfection on her strengths against the other top players. And she hasn't done that consistently this year for a variety of reasons.

It would be nice if she had more variety...all for that, it certainly would help cover for times where her strengths are not enough. I'm just not sure if at this stage of her career she'll be able to build in more variety, the other approach is build on her strengths and keep playing to them, to out muscle her opponents. Its a little bit like Roddick, who has a very nice game and is trying to build some net play in there, and hopefully it will work out, but as of right now, he still looks a little bit vunerable when he's up at net.

Sometimes I almost wanted Roddick to retreat back to the baseline, and stop making awful awkward errors from trying to playing something other than his natural playing style. I can see its a long term thing, but tennis careers don't last too long, and generally not many players are successful in changing their winning style of play, if they don't change it early on in their career.

Luckily there are players like Henin, and others who do have that variety as part of their natural state of play, and they have honed it for years, which makes it interesting for us fans.

Posted by ncot 07/13/2007 at 03:52 AM

roland garros, where are you? we need more maria supporters here.

i agree with md. maria has done OK this year. aus open finals, rg semi, and wimbledon loss to the eventual champ...it's not so bad when you think of it. i just think that maria's main problem right now is her focus. call her one-dimensional, but the truth is her game is effective. venus, serena, henin, and mauresmo are the only players that threaten her. and these are senior players, from way back the late 90's.

repeat: she has beaten each and everyone of the tennis heavyweights at least once, so she certainly knows what to do.

if there is one positive out of these losses, i got to see maria's graciousness and perspective in defeat. same case as with hewitt. so maybe these players are just misunderstood.

Posted by chloe02 07/13/2007 at 05:31 AM

Hi Nicholas - thanks for writing for us. In fact your fish analogy reminded me that I thought Maria's Wimbly dress was more Sea Cucumber than Swan Lake...but OK no more frilly stuff!

I think ncot and md have a point, in absolute terms it's not been that bad a year so far for Maria. However, your comments about the way in which she has lost in the majors does strike a chord.

I'm afraid that Maria drives me crazy as a fan - for me, she is the least engaging tennis player on the tour, even worse than Radek Stepanek and that's saying something.

I want to admire her fight but too often, it comes across as on-court bullying. Her shrieking, which is reaching epic proportions, is off-putting to a degree which amounts to cheating as it 'prevents her opponent from hearing the ball on the strings and reacting accordingly' (Navratilova commenting at Wimbly).

I want to admire her power play but it's no surprise she's struggling with shoulder injuries when her every forehand involves that crazy above the shoulder loop. It's not a shot I want to copy.

Maria is a gorgeous blond sports superstar but sometimes I feel her face looks like one you'd never tire of smacking (that's a kind of joke and refers to what I call Maria's Medusa face when she turns yet another umpire or opponent to stone with a glare, I'm not advocating female violence!). Has she lost the fun in the game? In which case, how in the hail is she ever going to develop as a player?

Posted by Samantha 07/13/2007 at 05:57 AM

Ren, did you see how late it was, of course I had typo, I was too tired to fix them. LOL! And Deb, please note I was one of the first to congrat Maria when she beat Juju at the US Open, and I've defended her right to grunt so I think I've been fair with my criticism. I've said many times the attention she bring to the game is great because tennis isn't very popular in the US. I like the Swan lake dress, really cute.

Posted by Samantha 07/13/2007 at 06:04 AM

Deb, I apologize. As you know, English isn't my first language, and I still have problems reading it, so I've to read posts twice, sometimes to get the right meaning. I just read your post again and I realize that you were refering to my first post and not saying this was the first time I gave Maria a compliment. I sincerely apologize because my first reading and understanding of your post was wrong. Please have a great day and thanks for complimenting my post. Very sorry for mistake.

Posted by codepoke 07/13/2007 at 06:56 AM

Cool, Nicholas. Welcome.

Since the last three crushings, I have wanted to go back and see whether there is a commonality in the strategy of the three winners. Have they found a single concrete weakness that they all went after at critical points?

I could not agree more about the one-dimensionality. Thanks for the post and stats.

Posted by Ruth 07/13/2007 at 07:08 AM

When I first saw that camera ad with the line, "Make every shot a power shot," I couldn't believe my ears. It was as if people had learned nothing from the Agassi experience with his "Image is everything." Both these lines sadly captured what was wrong with both young players' games and style at the time the lines were uttered. But I suppose that, as long as it sells product, it doesn't matter if a slogan embarrassingly highlights the worst aspect of the player's game.

Well, just as Andre was able to develop some substance to go with his "image," maybe Maria will learn some new shots to go withe "power shots" that she usually exectutes so well.

Posted by svelterogue 07/13/2007 at 07:33 AM

how do you solve a problem like maria?

give her a year or two, then she just might get the wilanders to chuck her icky dad and if she's completely devoted to her game, will begin to mature.

as for the chicken wing forehand and grunting, those have been copyrighted already and are, sad to say, here to stay.

as for fashion sense, the only maria-ness i was stuck with was with my powershot camera. i hesitated just a split second before buying it because i knew maria was endorsing it but hey, it really is a nifty touristy cam to carry around.

Posted by svelterogue 07/13/2007 at 07:35 AM

nicholas, welcome and thank you! :) my bad for failing to roll out the good ol' carpet

Posted by Samantha 07/13/2007 at 07:38 AM

Kim is married so congrats to her. Maria maximizes her game to it's fullest potential. She does the best with what she has to work with. Here are the player who I think are better player then her, but don't maximize their potential. Amelie has to be first, she has an all court game, but will lose to player who aren't in her league. Kimmy had a great game and certainly a game the was capable of more then one slam. Petrova isn't a better player then Sharapova, but she is another one who has a better game then what she produces particularly at the slams. Maria uses her game well because she rarely loses to tier 2 players, and loses to players who are better then she's. So you can say, she maximizes a very limited game(two GS) which is to her credit. Go Justine.

Posted by patrick 07/13/2007 at 07:56 AM

Nicholas,
Well said about the Sharapova game. Maria has been to the AO F(lost to Serena - AO Champ),RG SF(Ivanovic - RG F), and W R16(lost to Venus- W Champ) this year is considered a good year. But,in the manner she lost those particular matches, she really needs a Plan B(maybe Plan C). Maria ,along with Venus and Serena, needs another coach who will give them a different perspective.

Posted by Tari 07/13/2007 at 07:59 AM

Great post, Nicholas.

I've really enjoyed reading all of this, and have nothing really to add except that I'm not in the camp of people that dislike Maria. Lately, I've found it harder to root for her, and I don't know why (well, not true...I have a couple of ideas), because usually when someone is struggling a bit I find it easier to wish them well.

I do hope Maria finds a way to get her serve back, and makes the adjustments in her game to give herself more of a chance to stay near the top. She makes things interesting, love her or hate her.

Posted by beb 07/13/2007 at 08:06 AM
Posted by beb 07/13/2007 at 08:13 AM

sorry about last post. i think maria will adjust her game and learn that just hitting the ball hard will not always get the job done. I am not a fan of hers at all, but she will have a very good career. What's up with Yuri he has been very calm lately.

Posted by Samantha 07/13/2007 at 08:23 AM

Patrick, I don't know about Venus, but Serena will go back to Boliteri for help. This is what she did just before winning the AO. She got herself more fit there. I think Richard Williams does a fantastic job with his daughters. He has one daughter who is only l of 5 women to hold all four GS at the same time and another who owns more Wimbledon titles then any current player. I think it's great to get another coach perspective, but I think they already have one of the best coaches in the game as evident by the 14GS they have and all doubles GS they own. I would agree with Shriver who said that Maria's serving problems are due more to the yip then a shoulder problem. Go Justine!

Posted by patrick 07/13/2007 at 08:30 AM

Samantha,
Richard has done a great job but I just wish they would at least hear it from another point of view like you said about Serena going back to Nick B. to help prepare her for the AO. I think it was Nick B. along with dad who told her to shut it down after the USO last year to rest her injuries.

Posted by Slice-n-dice 07/13/2007 at 08:40 AM

Nicholas... you wrote in reply to my unwitting anonymous post of 07/12/2007 @ 10:18 PM: "And the difference between Sharapova and Seles and Agassi (other former Bollettieri bangers) is that their games were driven by angles and point-construction, not just hard-hit balls."

I agree completely. Point construction = thinking

I have to say, though, that Maria is a charming person off the court, and very articulate. Likeable, even. But on the court, her determination may also translate as stubbornness. Haven't we heard this charge leveled at Federer in regard to Roland Garros?

Posted by Beckham 07/13/2007 at 08:54 AM

Welcome Nicholas...great first post!!!

IMO the girl needs a new coach...Yuri as much as one might dislike him turned his daughter into a GS champion with a never say die attitude...the only problem is that the better players know how to play her now...the serve and FH while new a couple of years ago doesn't work anymore...the better players can hit just as hard as she can...or even outhit her (i.e. the Williamses)...and if it's really the shoulder I suggest she not play again until it's fixed because all the beat downs she's getting (from the better players) is not doing anything for her vaunted self confidence.

Posted by abbey 07/13/2007 at 09:16 AM

nicholas, welcome! and great post, too.

i'm not a sharapova fan, but i always look forward to seeing what she'll be wearing on court. well, that's about everything i have to say about maria. ;)

but i have a question about yuri? how bad is he really? yes, he looks scary from the stands, but compared to other tennis dads i don't think he ranks up there with the weirdos. maria clearly likes having him around and seems to be a daddy's girl. he doesn't talk to the press, so there haven't been any real insights on him. or have i just missed them?

Posted by fifteenlove 07/13/2007 at 09:42 AM

Hi all!

I've been viewing tennisworld for several months now, but this is my maiden post. I've decided to finally start joining in the fun. :) Everyone here articulates so well and completely that I've usually got nothing left to say.

Anyway, on Maria. Her game may be ugly, but no one can deny she's got talent, beauty and spirit in a single package. She's probably the biggest draw in the WTA at the moment, and her presence can only be good for tennis. In a world where premium is placed on beauty, she (and Ivanovic and Vaidisova) expands the interest in tennis to beyond tennis fans.

When Maria's game is on, she seems capable of beating the best. (see USO'06). One dimensional it may be, but it has taken her to #1 and 2 GS titles. This may of course be due to the lack of depth of the game previously, and like many pointed out, her current drop in form would be due to players starting to figure her out (along with a drop in confidence from taking so many beatings and the ongoing shoulder injury.)

I really hope she starts realising that carrying on like this will not do her any good. I mean, come on, only 20 and already requiring cortisone shots for her shoulder.

And, am I the only one around who actually enjoys the grunting, and the "come on!" that follows?

Posted by Slice-n-dice 07/13/2007 at 09:47 AM

fifteenlove:

Glad you decided to join in the fun!!! Welcome!!! You make some very good points about Maria and her "drawing" power. And yes, you may be the only one who enjoys the grunting (we don't call her Shrieky and Shriekapova for nothing). '-D

Posted by Tokyo Tom (tt) 07/13/2007 at 09:48 AM

I am not sure where all this doubt over injury comes from but if someone is getting cortisone shots to be able to play a tourney - and one can only take so many without risking permanent damage- I would cut them some slack and accept they have an injury. When an athlete has an injury, pain, the body and mind will come together to try and protect the particular part. Perhaps it is a footballer unwilling to cut the way they did pre injury. coming off the ball slightly before a tackle. Slightly change the serving motion to protect the shoulder.

I accept that she has a shoulder injury that, while not currently serious in a career ending way, could develop into just that. I also think her game and rythym start with the serve and her serve, in the past, has protected her ability to get into the point ahead or at least on an even footing.

I think she needs to get her shoulder sorted out, get a new coach away from her father and use the rehab time to get her game and confidence back. I also wonder how wise it was to really play this spring and summer, relying on cortisone shots, rather than get herself back together.

Given Maria and her father, I am not sure I see either happening. But then again I do not have an obsession with a beautiful game as the only way and appreciate the diversity in approaches that set up interesting matches. It is important to remember that not only mechanics but mentality comes into play when styles are employed under stress at important moments.

Posted by Churchill's Ghost 07/13/2007 at 09:55 AM

Montana: Great piece. You're a natural writer with an easy style that doesn't overstretch. You know how a cooking school student would use too much spice and too many competing flavors? You don't do that. This is from a guy who puts a pint of Tabasco in everything he writes (just ask mmmm8, who loves me by the way). You fairly ooze "red-blooded American buck, our hope for the future". For the love of Pete, don't disappoint!

I've been harsh on Maria as a political metaphor; as far as her tennis, she's done one thing very well - extract 110% of the available athleticism she has, which is not a lot compared to her pro peers. She's laughed about the fact that she's kluzty at every other sport under the sun. Man, #2 in the world and former (briefly) #1, 2-time GS champ...that's a lot for a gal whom it pains one to watch with her ultra-slo-mo pre-serve routine (even the ball seems to move slower as she bounces it).

There's that whole tense, pained routine, positively sphincter-tighening to watch as one squirms for her in one's seat. Then the ungodly shriek as she connects about eight feet up....

Speaking of which - I stress I have no evidence for this except my eyes and basic statistics - but what do you think the chances are of her growing to 6 foot 3 without, uh, a little adrenal assistance, courtesy of psych...I mean, Yuri? I hear the mom is 5 and a little, Yuri 6 even, if that (not verified)...and she grows 3 inches from 6 to 6'3" after age 19? How many girls grow after age 19...especially if they are already 6 feet, unless they have a pituitary disorder? Or....? (*coughsHGH coughs*)

Montana, cover your ears as there's significant vitriol potentially aimed this direction on this speculation (*hides from mmmm8 behind a Barcalounger*)

Posted by SwissMaestro 07/13/2007 at 09:58 AM

I would have loved seeing sharapova against Graff or Navratilova, haha a double bagel everytime....

Posted by Slice-n-dice 07/13/2007 at 10:08 AM

Tokyo Tom:

Well said! Maria should certainly get some serious rest and rehab for her shoulder before it becomes a career-threatening injury. Rotator cuff injuries, if that's what it turns out to be, can be completely debilitating and forever rob one of the maximum flexibillity and power in the shoulder.

Posted by Slice-n-dice 07/13/2007 at 10:11 AM

Churchill's Ghost:

The HGH factor seems a reasonable speculation. But I prefer not to judge too soon. Would I put it past Yuri, though? No.

Posted by zzzzzzzzzzzzz 07/13/2007 at 10:12 AM

Maria's game has turned me into a sleep walker.

Posted by Ruth 07/13/2007 at 10:17 AM

Welcome, fifteenlove.

As a tennis fan, I'm happy about anyone who is "a draw" for tennis since it means that the chances of our seeing more tennis on TV will increase. However, I have not noticed that Maria has been such a big draw either by observing any increase in attendance at her matches or rise in TV ratings when she plays. I know that the WTA wanted her to be a big draw, but has she been that? I remember, years ago, leaving a long day session of the Advanta tourney in Philly and wondering where the droves of young people (mostly male) were heading one night -- then I remembered that Anna K's match was the featured match that night!

I've seen no similar occurrences when Maria played here, nor have I seen any special surge in attendance or extra enthusiastic reaction to Maria from the crowds at the USO (at her matches I've attended) or at her matches that I've seen on TV. In fact, on more than one occasion, Maria has had to face questions from the press about the fans' negative reaction to her on court. (She usually says either that she didn't hear/see it or that she doesn't care.)

BTW I've heard people say that they don't like Sharapova because of the way that the WTA and/or the media try to forcefeed her to us. But that is hardly her fault, is it?

Posted by Slice-n-dice 07/13/2007 at 10:41 AM

Interesting observations, Ruth. Perhaps Ivanovic will be our new Anna K, sans the self-conscious "I'm a babe and I know you want me!" factor and much more game.

Posted by 07/13/2007 at 10:43 AM

This is an interesting article Nicholas. I do appreciate Sharapova’s fighting spirit, but I am not a fan of her game by any stretch of imagination – describing it as one-dimensional might be a compliment. Back to your article though, statistically speaking, it is hard to draw any conclusions from looking at specific events (one match). According to WTA’s website, Sharapova has a decent (sometimes winning) record against the players that she encountered those lopsided losses:

Sharapova – Seles 0-1 (15 year-old)
Sharapova – Clijsters 3-4 (lost 2 three-setters)
Sharapova –Myskina 2-3
Sharapova – Suarez 0-1 (17 year-old)
Sharapova – Kuznetsova 3-3 (won 2 matches 6-1; 6-4)
Sharapova – Davenport 4-1
Sharapova – Petrova 5-1
Sharapova – Hingis 2-1
Sharapova – S. Williams 2-4 (Wimbledon Final 2004 6-1; 6-4)
Sharapova – V. Williams 3-2
Sharapova – Ivanovic 1-2 (1 match Sharapova retired at 0-1 in 2nd set)

Overall: Sharapova – Opposition 25-23 (0.520)

Based on these numbers I don’t know if you could assert that her opponents “figured out” her game. I am more inclined to say that when things go wrong for her they go really wrong. Sharapova’s game has no margin for error. On a bad day another player may lose 6-4 6-3; on her bad days Sharapova doesn’t just lose, she gets killed. Not only her opponent plays a bit better on that day, but due to her high risk game, she will compound so many unforced errors that would make any statistician scratch his/her head in disbelief (they might even toss that out as an outlier). As most tennis pros will tell you, this is still a game decided by unforced errors. When you add to that a suspect serve lately, if you have the results that we’ve seen now and then.

Just as many top players say, it is more about their own game than what a given opponent does. I believe this is the case with Sharapova as well. When her game is on (Exhibit A: Wimbledon 2004; Exhibit B: US Open 2006) she makes things look so easy. Unfortunately she never makes them look pretty.

Posted by fifteenlove 07/13/2007 at 10:43 AM

Good point there, Ruth, about seeming the lack of attendance and support. The crowd never seems to particularly support Maria, especially if there is another marquee player on the other side of the net.

Besides using the reaction of -tennis- fans as a measurement, perhaps we could also look at how established she is outside of tennis to quantify or qualify her drawing power. After all, tennis is always hoping to attract more attention from people other than from pre-existing fans. In the 2007 Forbes Celebrity 100 List, she is the highest ranked female athlete at #51 and the 2nd ranked tennis player after Federer (at #31). Some may perhaps view this as a narrow yardstick, but statistics don't lie, and since the celebrity list measures press releases, internet searches and television coverage (as well as salary), I thought it would be an acceptable gauge of popularity and drawing power. The next ranked female athlete is Serena at #69.

Being the only tennis fan among my friends, I sometimes find it a bit lonely because I cannot really discuss anything tennis-related to them, except when "sharapova", "nadal" or "federer" is mentioned. This is too anecdotal and non-representative of any statistic or evidence in any way, but based on this and conversations with others i've come to realise that the 3 above (and probably hingis/agassi/williams) represent the faces of tennis.

The irony is that it seems like tennis fans themselves do not really like Maria.

And I do agree that the media and WTA do appear to be forcefeeding Maria to us. We'll be seeing way more of Ana and Nicole soon.

Posted by Monika 07/13/2007 at 10:49 AM

Nice picture to go with the fish metaphor.

Posted by Ryan 07/13/2007 at 10:53 AM

The problem is that the uber-marketing of Sharapova has only served to make Sharapova popular, not her tennis or the sport in general. Anna Kournikova paved the way for the evolution of sports celebrity to simply celebrity. Eventually, no one cared about her tennis anymore (including her). I don't doubt that Sharapova will continue, but plastering her face everywhere and having her in a gazillion commercials isn't making tennis more popular.

I mean, I hate racing, but I know who Danica Patrick is. So she's sexy and she's on commercials--does that mean I'm going to watch a sport I don't enjoy? No.

Posted by fifteenlove 07/13/2007 at 11:08 AM

Ah, you can't generalise your own experience, especially since you hate racing to begin with.

I'm just the opposite, I was never a tennis fan until I watched Sharapova in Wimby 2005 (and Federer, too.) I then threw myself full on into tennis fandom and never looked back.

Then again, I shouldn't generalise my own example as well.

Posted by mad about fed 07/13/2007 at 11:19 AM

deb

***It would be nice if she had more variety...all for that, it certainly would help cover for times where her strengths are not enough. I'm just not sure if at this stage of her career she'll be able to build in more variety, the other approach is build on her strengths and keep playing to them, to out muscle her opponents.****

along with Conners maybe maria should talk to uncle toni, rafa(21 yrs old) seems to be changing and adapting his game with great results (3rd rd at wimby in 2005? to the finals for the last 2 years). she is only 21 not 26 she has time to change. i think its called committment and dedication. (someone said above in earlier post)her plan B is to hit the ball harder. what's next? harderest? she needs to seriously commit to the change(s) it will take to hang with top players and then work twice as hard.

superSnark made the comment about maria's height (6'2). venus is 6'1 or 2 look how well she moves

Posted by Cal 07/13/2007 at 11:58 AM

Aside from the obvious lack of confidence in her own game against mentally very tough players right now, Sharapova has never been a player who has played with PURPOSE.

She hits HUGE, but randomly huge. She does not attack opponents' weaknesses. She does not strategize. She just hits. She's not a "thinker with killer instinct" on court to match her power, like Seles was, for example, with the acute angles and ability to hone in on the slightest weakness of an opponent.

She may not be able to be taught some mental aspects of the game, but she can certainly put in some extra window dressing: opportune volleys; *different* serves (come on, Maria--try some variations!); BETTER COACHING from a coach who will truly scout her opponents, break down their games for her, and give her a more well-fromed plan of attack for individual matches.

The Daddy has GOT to go, already.

However, adding a bunch of things to her game at this point is just as likely to confuse the girl and she'll completely unravel.
Two-Slam Wonder. Maybe three, if someone breaks a leg.

Posted by Samantha 07/13/2007 at 12:00 PM

Also, I have never understood the big money that celebrities get to endorse products. I don't know about anyone esle but I buy products based on what I like. I don't buy Justine's outfits because they're do plain for, but I have bought Sharapova's because they look better on me. Not because she endorses them. Again, you buy what you like, not because a celebrity endorses it.

Posted by superSnark 07/13/2007 at 12:08 PM

little kids (using their parents money) want whatever their favorite/s endorse.

Posted by Tokyo Tom (tt) 07/13/2007 at 12:11 PM

Yes but for every Smanatha there are 100,000 others around the world that wear Tiger Woods golf wear, football jerseys with stars numbers - marketing luxury goods is mostly about status and creating the market whereby star connection brings big bucks. Think product placement in films and the fact that David Beckham has already earned his first years salary before even getting to LA in merchandise sales.

Personally understand it or not, it is big business globally and crosses all sporting lines.

Posted by superSnark 07/13/2007 at 12:19 PM

Mad - True, Venus moves great, she crouches lower, and generally has a lighter step than Maria who takes heavy steps, doesn't bend her knees as much as Venus, and is generally not as fluid in any department, her strokes, her footwork. I don't see her movement and flexibility improving - watching Ivanovic move is beautiful, she moves intuitively, Maria doesn't really. She needs to lose her pappy, he's taken her as far as his one perspective possibly can. If she's committed to improving, she may have to accept the risk of losing as she re-jigs her approach to tennis. Bash and bash can't beat the other top players, and without a move to improve she's gonna struggle to win a slam after destroying lesser players.

Posted by 07/13/2007 at 12:41 PM

“another point. the question was asked over and over of the Williamses about their committment to tennis when they were open and honest about their outside interests ie: acting and fashion. i think the same question should be asked of maria. how can player play tennis from january through november and keep up the amount of outside committments that maria has? how and how long can she maintain a life like that and still be physically and mentally fit to play tennis?”

EXACTLY!! This needed to be said.

Posted by Sam 07/13/2007 at 12:50 PM

"So she's sexy and she's on commercials--does that mean I'm going to watch a sport I don't enjoy? No"

Exactly, Ryan.

Ruth: LOL at your story about the Advanta tournament. A few guys I worked with were probably among that crowd. :-)

Posted by Veruca Salt 07/13/2007 at 12:55 PM

I can't add to any more that's been written here. Great job folks! Maria definitely needs to up her tennis IQ. She needs to (a). Improve her movement. It's not too late. Carlos Moya is 31 years old and is moving better than he did when he was number 1 in the world. If he can do it, she can too. (b). Be more patient. She had mentioned that she is aware that with some opponents she needs to keep the ball in play in order to make them hit another shot. She needs to add and keep this in her game plan. It works. Example: Nadal (c). As someone mentioned before, she might want to try playing doubles to improve her net game. She's tall and she has a big wing span. She could be very intimidating at the net. She doesn't need to become a serve and volleyer but if she came to the net more often, she can shorten points her points considerably.(d). She needs a coach who can help her do all of these things. Maria's going to have to make a tough choice: Either listen to her father or allow someone else to take over without Yuri's interference. The cool thing about Richard and Oracene is that they were always open to having their daughters learn from others like Rick Macci, Nick B, and Billy Jean King. It's time for her to put her career in her own hands. I wonder if she'll be able to do that.

Posted by david 07/13/2007 at 01:06 PM

I've always thought of Sharapova as a less talented Lindsay Davenport. The difference being Sharapova is a little more mobile, less court savvy, and a huge fighting spirit. I think its her mental toughness that has won her so many tournaments. And that is what will allow her to accomplish more than Lindsay did. But overall Sharapova has the same problems Lindsay had when she was playing. Who were the 3 players that consistently had Lindsay's number (Justine, Serena, Venus). The good thing for Sharapova is she is much younger than those 3 players the bad thing is players like Ivanovic are coming up.
And isn't it a myth that Sharpova is big power player. She doesn't hit as hard off the ground as Henin, WS, Ivanovic, Pierce. But what she does do is hit with consistent depth. Her ground game is solid and I rarely see her make UE after UE a la Venus Williams.

Posted by 07/13/2007 at 01:17 PM

“BTW I've heard people say that they don't like Sharapova because of the way that the WTA and/or the media try to forcefeed her to us. But that is hardly her fault, is it? “

No, it isn’t her fault, but her on court personality doesn’t help either. The turning of her back to the opponent, the silly stares, the coaching and her style of play isn’t entertaining IMO.

Posted by mad about fed 07/13/2007 at 01:19 PM

samatha

***Also, I have never understood the big money that celebrities get to endorse products. I don't know about anyone esle but I buy products based on what I like. I don't buy Justine's outfits because they're do plain for, but I have bought Sharapova's because they look better on me. Not because she endorses them. Again, you buy what you like, not because a celebrity endorses it.***
that's only true if you're old enough to vote,lol. even then the 18 to mid 20's are still buying based on endorsed products.

based on what i see celebrities, sport stars included, don't have fashion sense. their stylist does. i think most endorsers could probably care less about the product they are hawking, it's all about money. so all of you spending your money because maria or some other celebity told you to aren't buying what they[celebrities] "like" but what will bring them money.

Posted by David 07/13/2007 at 01:21 PM

ohh and I'm not sure how much of Sharapova's serving problem is mental and how much of it is physical.
I think Cahill pointed this out best during Sharpova match against Sugiyama. Against Sugiyama she looked amazing. Her ground game was crisp and clean. She was hitting with greath consistent depth and more importantly her serve looked completely fixed. She had very few DF and was serving big off the first and good off the second. But Cahill said Sharapova's serve looked great against an average returner like Sugiyama but it would be a much different story against a returner like Venus. And fast forward to the sharapova/Venus match and Sharapova is DF like crazy and suddenly her serve looks like the liability it was at the AO.

Posted by fifteenlove 07/13/2007 at 01:59 PM

I think the stares make the game more interesting. Maria gives an icy, glacial glare at her opponent; Serena looks at her opponent with something almost like hatred, while Justine gives her blast of cool, steely determination.

I really hope she can get herself a coach who will give her what she needs, but I don't see how Yuri will ever want to let go, especially with her being only 20 now. (Ok, to others, already 20.)

Posted by superSnark 07/13/2007 at 02:05 PM

I was watching Venus vs Sharpie with a fried of mine (25 yr old asian male).

His comments were basically, 'what's that funy dress she's wearing? Won't that get in the way? She's got really nice legs, she sounds like she's ___ming all the time. Are you kidding me, she's 6-2!' I tried to 'educate' him a bit and highlight how Venus was moving her all over the court, stepping in on her serves etc, but to no avail... He couldn't stop laughing, 'OMG, are you serious, she sounds like she's ___ming!'

Posted by Samantha 07/13/2007 at 02:13 PM

I would agree partially with the Davenport comparison. Davenport was called the turtle because of her poor movement around the court, and Maria's movement is not very good. I believe Lindsay had a better serve and was a cleaner striker of the ball. But there are some similarities. Overall, I would say, Lindsay had more variety to her game. I've her 2005 Wimbledon final on tape and she hit some great shots.

Posted by svelterogue 07/13/2007 at 02:22 PM

here's a clip on ana:

http://edition.cnn.com/video/#/video/sports/2007/07/11/pinto.ana.ivanovic.cnn

i hope this link isn't too long, pete! *biting lip*

Posted by PSparkle 07/13/2007 at 02:23 PM

superSnark, At one point during Sharapovas match, he was mimicking her shrieks! I had to beg him to stop.

Posted by PSparkle 07/13/2007 at 02:23 PM

Woops, bad typo there...the "he" was my dad.

Posted by svelterogue 07/13/2007 at 02:25 PM

i got into a major argument post-wimbledon with an asian male in his late 30s who's so into maria, saying that her grunts really turned him on. he dissed players like amelie, justine, and the williams sisters, saying they looked like she-men, and that no guy at the USO watches maria for her tennis. i figured i couldn't really talk tennis with him, and i was right.

Posted by Ruth 07/13/2007 at 03:00 PM

Sam: Guys you worked with, indeed! I thought that I recognized your face when your picture was posted on this site. Now, I know where I'd seen you before. LOL

But that was such a funny scene that night. As my friend and I were walking to the parking lot, a bus pulled up on Lancaster Ave near Villanova, and I swear that about 80% of the riders who got off and headed for the stadium were young men. I could imagine about 20 parents saying, "No, you may not borrow my car to go and ogle some tennis player! Take the bus." :)

Posted by the game is important but looks can't be ignored in this commercial world 07/13/2007 at 03:05 PM

I personally think that the Williams sisters are beautiful in their own exotic way, and Amelie has started to shine more beautifully after I realised how eloquent and polite she was.

Tennis fans watch these players for their games. However, for those who don't appreciate their games or do not appreciate tennis, the appearance of the players become the easiest thing to critique. And that asian male friend of yours isn't alone in his opinion at all. In fact, no offense to any fans of theirs here, but those opinions seem rather prevalent, from what I can tell among people I know.

Tennis is a glamorous game that has come to be viewed in almost Hollywood-esque ways, sometimes. In a superficial world, the superficial aspects are emphasised, in traditional Hollywood ways, where stick-thin is beauty, no one would be caught dead without make up, and god forbid you being photographed in the same outfit twice.

This heavy emphasis on appearance spells fortune for the natural beauties - Maria, AnnaK and gang. However for the less physically endowed, they have to let their game speak for themselves.

Of course you can say that the game is all that matters. Most of the time, it is. But for many of us, admiring the players for their looks and appearance is an important icing on the cake;
for people who don't like watching tennis, player appearance is probably of sole, paramount importance.

I'm sure Justine or Amelie certainly wouldn't mind a piece of the $25million/year pie that Maria gets to eat because she looks like -that-.

And that's why I'm a Maria fan. Because she has The Package, that no one else has. Not Justine, not Amelie, and not Serena. She can beat them on the tennis courts (although, I guess we probably can't say so right now), and she will definitely blow them off on the red carpets and the Hollywood parties.

Posted by the game is important 07/13/2007 at 03:16 PM

I may have come off sounding the wrong way in the post above by me.

As a tennis fan, to me the game is definitely of prime importance. I'm just pointing out that to many people, especially non tennis fans, player appearance takes precedence in judgement, and Maria, though not as skilled in her game, at least gives people something to look at.

And I do recognise that beauty is mostly the tennis players' luck for being born with it. It isn't really an achievement that they've worked towards to that we can praise. So I'm saying, lucky them for having something to show, and lucky us for having something nice to watch.

Posted by Sam 07/13/2007 at 03:26 PM

LOL, Ruth! Actually, I was never as crazy about Anna K as many others were. Thought she was somewhat overrated, to be honest with you.

It is a shame that she didn't do more on the court. Saw her practice at the USO once (the Saturday before the tournament started - it drew a decent crowd), and she was quite talented with good hands at the net.

Posted by Samantha 07/13/2007 at 03:54 PM

It's funny how people perceive looks differently. I've never looked at Maria and seen a great beauty. I see a pretty girl who looks like many girls from my home country of Sweden, tall and blond. But to me, Ivanovic is beautiful because she's so different from the girls I'm used to seeing. She's very dark, exotic looking and very beautiful to me. When TTC had their contest on who was the most beautiful, I picked Ana. I don't think it's too late for Maria to change her game, look how Justine was able to add power to her game. Go Justine!

Posted by Eric 07/13/2007 at 03:54 PM

I don't understand why so many people are surprised that Sharapova isn't dominating the tour. In 2004 she played out of her head to win that Wimbledon title. That performance was the exception not the rule. Sharapova isn't athletic enough to dominate. As far as her looks go, her attractiveness will only carry her so far. If she doesn't win,her endoresment deals will dry up, no one wants to be associated with a loser. Just ask Kournikova.

Posted by the game is important 07/13/2007 at 04:03 PM

Ok, organised my thoughts better now (hopefully). Urgh, I can be so ineloquent sometimes.

I'm not sure why I brought up the issue of Looks vs Game in tennis. I think I just feel that Looks are an important aspect as well, that seems to be under emphasised, and that the game isn't the single aspect of tennis we should consider, especially with the glam factor of tennis. See the 34576124 Roddick and Safin and Nadal fangirls that probably cannot be bothered with serves or topspin forehands, and are concerned with their bulging biceps and handsome faces. They drive the tennis economy, they make up a big part of tennis fandom.

There are those who will appreciate the sport for the skill and game, and looks would just be a small issue. (majority of fans, probably, and majority of posters here in TW) Then there are those who watch the sport more for the beauty of the players (possibly like the asian friend of svelterogue), and less of the beauty of the game. And there are those who look for both (like me).

So, what I conclude is.. tennis gives us all what we want. Sensual factor or the competitive thrill of the game, it's both present. A great buffet, pick which aspect you want to watch. That's why it's so great.

Posted by Ruth 07/13/2007 at 04:14 PM

tgii: You make a good point. On those rare occasions when my sons join me to watch tennis, it is usually because Venus or Serena is playing, and they love the looks of V the tennis is secondary. And they would trample over many players that others consider beautiful to get a better view of V&S. It's just a matter of individual taste, I suppose.

Posted by Sherlock 07/13/2007 at 04:26 PM

Late to the party, but welcome, Nick. Great job. Gives me pause when thinking about Maria.

Also, welcome from a fellow Seattle fan. I graduated from Seattle Pacific, a little before Matt's time. Well, ok, more than a little, but close enough. Never made it over to your campus, but know the area. Go Mariners!

Posted by Sherlock 07/13/2007 at 04:28 PM

And I second Sam's thoughts on Kournikova. Overrated comes to mind. :)

Posted by Rosangel 07/13/2007 at 05:04 PM

Great job, Nicholas. And an interesting subject here. Much has been said already that I agree with. While I couldn't be described as a Sharapova fan (maybe have been a bit turned off by some of the offcourt stuff, and instances where I have seen her behaviour on court as gamesmanship or even cheating), I'd still love to see her improve. She is young enough for me to think that the gamesmanship issues might disappear with maturity. Offcourt she seems like a nice enough person. She is a terrific competitor, and the women's game aas a whole can only benefit if she is able to step up.

I agree with those think that a new, strategically-minded coach might do a lot for Maria. But she also needs to be fit before trying to move ahead again.

Posted by Ali C (Allez!) 07/13/2007 at 05:09 PM

Game, "I'm sure Justine or Amelie certainly wouldn't mind a piece of the $25million/year pie that Maria gets to eat because she looks like -that-."


Actually, I wonder. I think Justine and Amelie could have more sponsors and be doing more photo shoots, and they choose not to because they are, first and foremost, *tennis players*. (I'm surprised Justine's sponsors can get her off the court at all, really.) I get the impression from both of those two that the sponsors and stuff they do is a nice perk of being a good tennis player, but they aren't too troubled to go out and get more.

But then, I could be wrong. Maybe Justine and Amelie are horribly jealous of Maria, deep down inside. ;)

Posted by Ali C (Allez!) 07/13/2007 at 05:13 PM

Ros, you're probably right about the gamesmanship. Hopefully.

Question: do we KNOW what the mysterious shoulder injury actually is? Rotator cuff? Tendinitis? Inflamed bursa? Tear of the labrum? If she's getting cortisone, something's inflamed...

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