Re: Evolution of Maria's Game - 2004-2013
I agree that her forehand is the main part of her game that's declined compared to 2004-08 (not her serve, as legend would have it). But as others have alluded to, I think it's likely that she can't hit her forehand like she used to anymore -- maybe she was told by her doctors that it was what caused the injury, or maybe it's that the surgery actually removed her ability to hit it like that (I know she's said in the past that one of the reasons she was so prone to shoulder problems was that before the surgery she always had an unusually loose/flexible shoulder, maybe that was what enabled her to lasso it right the way round like she used to). So I guess reverting back to her previous forehand just isn't an option. I do think her forehand in the second half of last year was the best I've seen it since the surgery, as she was pretty consistent with it while still managing to drive it through the court (sets 2 and 3 of her match against Bartoli at the USO stands out, she hits tons of forehand down-the-line winners there), but since Australia this year it's regressed and she's started just guiding it into court again for the most part.
I definitely agree that her reluctance to drive-volley in recent years has harmed, and I think that ties in with the fact her mental toughness isn't quite what it once was. I don't actually think her drive-volleys have regressed technically, because there's been a few matches in the last couple of years where she's been relaxed where she's been vintage DriveVolleyPova. It's just that when you're feeling tight (as I believe Post-SurgeryPova usually is in high-stakes matches), it's a lot harder to successfully drive-volley, because when you're tight, your thought processes work that bit slower, and if you've taken just a few split-seconds longer than normal to spot an opportunity to take a ball out of the air then you've wasted valuable time. Basically, I feel if she can find a way to be more releaxed in big matches (which is a LOT easier said than done, admittedly), I think a lot of these problems go away.
For the most part I think her main focus should be on just trying to do what she does better, but in terms of variety, as I was saying a few weeks ago, I think it might be an idea to try and develop her slice....she actually has had a decent backhand slice on clay the last couple of years, and if she could use it more consistently and on other surfaces, I think she'd be less vulnerable on the defence. Also, I think her return has room for improvement: if you look at her matches against Serena, she actually doesn't get aced all that much (compared to other players), but it's just she can't get loads of her returns into court because she's taking full swings on every return, which is suicide against a huge serve. If she can just find a way to block huge serves back or take a shortened swing at them and just try to get them into play and give herself a chance, then she'd be better off I think, because she has the wingspan and good anticipation to be a better returner than she is. (And what I just mentioned was one of Connors' strengths, incidentally.)