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Old May 24th, 2011, 07:14 PM   #2504
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Re: ** Masha News and Articles! ** Vol. 2

Sharapova proves she is a real contender
Tuesday, May 24, 2011
By Matt Cronin

Currently showing her best ever form on red clay, Maria Sharapova cruised past Mirjana Lucic 6-3, 6-0 in the first round and proved that she is a true contender for the Roland Garros title for the first time. The three-time Grand Slam champion barely missed a shot in running off the last ten games of the match, serving big, tearing apart Lucic's second services and hitting the corners with both her forehands and backhands.

The former French Open semi-finalist has been to the second week of the tournament on a few occasions, where she would eventually tire and get run over by faster opponents who could move her around. But after winning Rome 10 days ago with three notable wins over no.4 Victoria Azarenka, no.1 Caroline Wozniacki and 2010 Roland Garros finalist Sam Stosur, the Russian has proved that is she can control the court and has improved her footing enough to win on any surface.

"I started [Rome] off really well, and I felt like I continued with that. Even though I lost the first set to Azarenka, I felt like I adjusted well, and I did that really well throughout the tournament. If something wasn't quite working, I always had a plan B and was able to find a way to win."

Sharapova seriously struggled to regain her no.1 form after her 2008 shoulder surgery, occasionally playing at a very high level but also growing frustrated with the inconsistency of her once effective service as well as her forehand. Only five of her 23 titles have come since that surgery and only two, Tokyo and Rome, were at prestigious tournaments.
She has only reached one Grand Slam quarterfinal since returning to the tour in May 2009, at Roland Garros a month later when she lost to Dominika Cibulkova. But for the most part, she has kept her head down and now ranked No. 8, is showing more self-belief and consistency.

"I don't think any road is particularly easy," she said. "If you don't have the tough days and don't go through adversity, I don't think that the good ones and the wins mean as much as when everything seems to be going your way. I've put a lot of work in, and starting from the off-season, I had a tough period at the beginning of the year, being sick for a while and having to wait to play a tournament. But I trained really hard. I don't think I had that work ethic last year. At some points I didn't push myself as much as I wanted to, but that motivation has really kicked in this year, and I hope I keep going with that."

Sharapova took a risk in January, separating from her long-time coach and friend Michael Joyce to work with Swede Thomas Hogstedt, who once coached Na Li and Tommy Haas. She also brought in a new hitting partner this spring - former ATP player Cecil Mamiit - but it was her willingness to try to institute Hogstedt's technical changes with her service and forehand as well as some strategic moves that have opened the gate to improvement.

"You just try to get the best possible thing for you, and add or sometimes take away things that maybe you feel are ultimately going to make you better," she said. "The most important thing is just realizing that it's never just going to come together in a matter of minutes. It's always going to take time. Adjustments ultimately hopefully will get you to a better place, and it was a tough change for me. I had the same sort of routine and the same stuff for so many years, but in a way it was refreshing and new."
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