Maria Sharapova likes Jimmy Connors' fire
Don’t expect her to suddenly sport his vintage Dutch Boy haircut or swing that unwieldy Wilson steel racket. Jimmy Connors’ influence on Maria Sharapova will be considerably more subtle. But she hopes it’ll be no less substantial.
It’s been less than a month since Sharapova, in the wake of a second-round loss to a qualifier at Wimbledon, announced she was parting with coach Thomas Hogstedt to work with Connors, who personified grit in a playing career spanning more than 20 years (five straight as No. 1) and eight Grand Slam singles titles.
This is their first tournament since the pairing was announced.
“His philosophy is there’s no substitute for hard work,” Sharapova, the 2011 Western & Southern Open champion and No. 3 seed this year, said Monday. “He certainly emphasizes that in every single practice.
“At this stage of my career, no one’s going to come in and change something drastically. But his experience and work ethic are priceless. It’s been nice.”
At 26, with a career Grand Slam and more than $26 million in prize money on her resume, Sharapova wasn’t looking for someone to reinvent the wheel. She was more interested in situational help and motivation, she said, and flashed back to spending a few weeks working with Connors five years ago, when she was coached by Michael Joyce.
“He had a lot of great things to say,” Sharapova said. “A lot of it was from his experience and his knowledge. ... I enjoyed the time and the work.”
Sharapova said she understands the parallel some might draw between her choice of Connors and Andy Murray’s decision to work with another accomplished former player in Ivan Lendl, a partnership that has paid major dividends – an Olympic gold and Murray’s first two Grand Slam wins.
“It’s maybe a little bit different because I started working with (Connors) after winning four Grand Slams,” Sharapova said. “Certainly I know what it takes to accomplish something. I’ve been there. It was more about the work ethic that I knew he was going to put in, and the experience. He’s been there, done that.”
Connors, 60, who worked with a high-profile player in Andy Roddick from 2006-08, put Sharapova through an hour-long practice in the midday sun Monday at the Lindner Family Tennis Center.
Connors sometimes hits with her, Sharapova said, but not Monday. Dressed in long pants and a pink sweater vest, Connors deferred the rallying to a hitting partner, instead mostly standing behind the baseline with Sharapova, feeding balls and offering occasional counsel.
Walking briskly off court afterward, Connors wasn’t expansive as to what he can bring to the table.
“We’re just starting,” he said.
What does he hope to help Sharapova accomplish?
“We’re just starting,” he repeated.
Of course, Connors wasn’t chosen for his chatter; rather for his candor.
“When you have a partnership between a player and a coach, he wants me to be better and greater; he’s not going to (just) tell me that I’m great,” Sharapova said. “He’s going to make me work hard and get the best out of me.”
Sharapova was asked if she expected Connors’ intensity to rub off.
“I don’t know, I’m pretty intense,” she said, laughing. “We’ll see.”
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