The French Open draw has opened up for Maria Sharapova as she looks to win the only major to elude her so far. Al Dannity examines the hard road Sharapova has travelled to get back to the top and breaks down the work she still needs to put in.
Rebuilding an empire The original Russian invasion of women’s Tennis never panned out with the same drama as expected. When Maria Sharapova won Wimbledon in 2004, it came just a few weeks after Anastasia Myskina won an all-Russian final with Elena Dementieva in Paris. Svetlana Kuznetzova would go on to claim the US Open crown in the autumn, with Dementieva again missing out in the final. Russia looked set to dominate the women’s game for the next decade.
While certainly becoming a force in the sport, Russia’s success at grand slam level slowed considerably. In the eight years since, there have been just three more majors claimed by Russian women. Kuznetzova claimed the French Open title in 2009, in another all-Russian final against Dinara Safina, while Sharapova won in Flushing Meadows in 2006 and Melbourne in 2008.
The stuttering assault by Russia on the world of women’s Tennis mirrors much of Sharapova’s career. It started with a bang and then showed flashes of brilliance but was always just shy of greatness. For Sharapova there were two problems to overcome and she’s seemingly dealt with one of them.
Half the battle Shoulder problems have dogged Sharapova throughout her career and she’s only really been fully clear for the past two seasons. That period has seen a return to form from the Russian but questions remained. Her mental state was certainly worthy of examination, particularly in her battles with Victoria Azarenka. The war appeared truly lost when Sharapova was trounced by the Belarusian in the Australian Open Final earlier this year. She has bounced back however picking up a vital victory over her rival in Stuttgart. This, coupled with some solid displays on in the spring, made her one of the favorites for the French Open.
There remains however a major physical question. Sharapova’s serve is a powerful weapon but she has huge control issues. Her three set battle with Klara Zakopalova set alarm bells ringing around Paris. While the stronger player throughout, the Russian couldn’t close it out because of service issues. Sharapova’s quarter final opponent, Kaia Kanepi, has the game to exploit an off-day for the Russian. A big performance is required on Wednesday and not just because of Kanepi. With Petra Kvitova still in the draw, Sharapova needs to get her physical game back on track. The final days of this year’s French Open could see Sharapova finally claim the one slam she covets most but it could yet be a rocky road.
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