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Old Aug 19th, 2010, 04:52 AM   #111
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Re: ** Masha News and Articles! ** Vol. 2

Sharapova is a major Slam factor again.
Maria Sharapova will enter the U.S. Open with her best chance of winning a major since she returned from shoulder surgery in October of 2008.

But as she showed in her late breakdown in her 2-6, 7-6 (4), 6-2 loss against Kim Clijsters in the final of the Cincinnati Women's Open on Sunday, she's going to have to pull something special out of herself physically and mentally if she's going to win an elusive fourth Grand Slam title.

If she had been able to take care of three match points ahead 5-3 in the second set, or serve out the match at 5-4, or hold on to a 3-0 lead in the tiebreaker, Sharapova would have walked away from the tournament with her head held very high.

Instead, she will likely brood over the result for awhile. She won't be able to erase the sour taste of Cincinnati at this week's tournament in Montreal either — she pulled out of the event Monday due to a foot injury she sustained in the match against Clijsters.

While Clijsters — the defending U.S. Open champion — played extremely well to come back and seize control of the match, Sharapova is sure to ruminate on the one ridiculous backhand unforced error she made on the third of her match points, how she double faulted away the ninth game of the second set and how in the breaker, she committed five unforced errors, including two double faults.

By the third set, she was all but gone, receiving treatment for an ankle injury down 1-2 and losing steam off the ground and on her serve.

But Sharapova has always proved to be resilient, and if she can manage to put her harrowing loss to Clijsters aside, she'll realize that she's played better in her last two tournaments — Stanford and Cincinnati — than she has the rest of the year and she is close to being able to close out big-time matches again. Sharapova is right there with a very up-and-down WTA top 20.

Prior to Stanford, Sharapova hadn't beaten a top 25 player since October 2009, but there and in Cincinnati she beat No. 23 Zheng Jie, No. 6 Elena Dementieva, No. 9 Radwanska (twice), two-time Grand Slam victor Svetlana Kuznetsova, No. 22 Marion Bartoli and the red-hot teenager Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova before Clijsters used her stronger legs to trip her up.

“These tournaments have been great for me. I've played against different types of players, some have been challenging and I've had to come through,” Sharapova said.

Only one player — top-ranked Serena Williams — has shown herself capable of dominating the majors this season, and Serena will enter the U.S. Open not having played a match since winning her fourth Wimbledon crown due to a foot injury.

Even though Serena is certainly capable of working her way into the tournament, in her previous three title runs in New York (1999, 2002 and 2008), the 13-time Grand Slam winner has always contested at least a few matches before stepping into Arthur Ashe Stadium.

Since Sharapova returned from elbow problems two weeks before the French Open, she has compiled a 23-6 record and has lost to only to one player out of the top 25 — then-No. 30 Lucie Safarova in Madrid.

It's been nearly three years since Sharapova won her last Grand Slam at the 2008 Australian Open and she's overdue to make a strong run. Since her shoulder surgery, she has only come into two Grand Slams with her formidable serve at pre-surgery speeds — early this summer at the French Open and Wimbledon. In those locales, she pushed both multiple Grand Slam champions Justine Henin and Serena in respectable defeats.

But just because she's performed well at times during those matches, she was not pleased with being on the losing end. She expects to play well and it's a rare day when she comes off court when she thinks she was simply outplayed.

“You have to be a little cocky," Sharapova told “As athletes we have to be or we wouldn't be so tough on court. After the Serena match I knew I played solid, but I was bummed out because I know I could have won. I believed that then and still do.”

When she hasn't been too pooped from playing in back-to-back night and day matches, she's playing just as well as when she won her Australian Open crown and has more options in her bag.

She's junked the abbreviated service motion that she was using to protect her shoulder, and now she's going for both her first and second serves. While she is still double faulting too much, one of the reasons for that is she's hitting her second serve in the mid-90s and giving herself little margin for error as she's trying to place them very deep.

While she's criticized for double faulting, her mentality is that she's much more apt to hold service games when her foes can't jump on soft second serves and she'd rather double fault once a game than see three outright return winners scream past her.

Sharapova takes much the same attitude with her return of serves, consistently going for outright winners rather than just trying to get them back in the court. While on bad days this might be too risky of a proposition, her attitude puts tremendous pressure on her opponents.

Unlike her first few years on tour, she occasionally uses the slap and charge off second serves and while she much prefers a swing volley to a standard one, she is willing to stand her ground at the net to pull off spectacular volleys.

On great days, all those positive elements to her game shine through, but on mediocre ones, she remains vulnerable as the field has slightly improved since 2008. Plus, even though she's quicker than she once was and plays respectable defense, Sharapova is not a burner and can be yanked off the court in long rallies. She is not a brilliant shotmaker on the run and needs to dictate to win, which was evidenced in her loss to Clijsters.

Sharapova is not a patient person by nature. Not raising one trophy after the next, or not being able to deliver her money shots on a dime did bother her. She says she keeps things in perspective, but that perspective also includes a belief that she will win another major.

"I worked on patience so long during the injury and obviously wanted good results and wanted to go far in the Slams and this year it hasn't happened. But that the way it is and I'm not going to quit because I didn't,'' said Sharapova, who won her sole U.S. Open crown in 2006. "I was No. 1 in summer, I got injured and had just won a Slam (the Aussie Open) and (then) I'm out of the game the next nine months. I'm not one to sit and say what could have been and I've said this from day one that I'm just really fortunate to have come back.”

Assuming her foot injury heals in time, Sharapova has established herself as a substantial contender for this year's U.S. Open. With Henin out and both the Williams sisters hurt, only Clijsters and Kuznetsova will likely enter the tournament healthy and with resumes close to Sharapova's.

So now the 23-year-old Sharapova has edged closer to being able to declare herself a legend in the making once again. But whether she can put it all together in New York remains to be seen.

“I want to perform my best at the Open and peak there,” she said.
She went from not beating a top 40 player to being a major slam contender.
These positive articles are making me really happy. I have really good feeling about the US Open.
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