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Old Aug 22nd, 2013, 08:24 PM   #245
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Re: US Open 2013: hashtag slam number 5

From early 2012 up until this year's French Open, where Maria was playing her best, most consistent tennis since her surgery, I was really enjoying watching Maria play tennis more than any point in her career. I have to admit that during that 2004-2008 period, I took her for granted a bit. There were a number of lesser tournaments that I didn't pay attention to because my mindset was that she was so young and there would be many more times playing these other tourneys and I was really going to just concentrate on the big ones.

The surgery reminded me of how fragile and brief a tennis career can be and that I should have been more attentive to Maria's work when I had the chance. So I made up my mind that if she were to come back and play at a championship level again, I would make a concerted effort to follow her closely from tournament to tournament. Obviously, those first few years when she came back were tough and painful to watch at long stretches and you wondered if she would ever get back on top. But I still kept pulling for her.

And when things started to come together in 2012, I was really savoring every match and every tournament. Even with the hard losses to Serena and Vika, it was so exciting to see her find that consistency and be a top 3 player and continually put herself into semis and finals just like her early years. I think one of the reasons I've been tough on her after matches when she didn't play well or lost was because I viewed each match and each tournament as very precious at this point in her career. I definitely was spooked by that first surgery and ever since, it's been in the back of my mind the problems could resurface and it was important for Maria to take advantage of every moment she had where she was playing well and relatively healthy. That's why each loss and each missed opportunity to win another title for the past year and a half hurt even more than usual. In my mind, her career clock was always ticking.

So I try to replay those moments from the past 18 months, the 2012 clay season, that French, carrying the flag in London, getting the silver, reaching the WTA title match, her IW/Miami finals double this year, and other little moments. I can be happy that I savored every minute I could and did it the right way this time as a fan and missed nothing important.

Now, if she does come back and plays again at a high level, it goes without saying how thrilling that would be. But before she could even get to that point, there's going to be a large chunk of time missed yet again that she can't get back. More of her career is being taken from her. So as much you want to be as positive as possible about her prospects, it's hard not to feel a little empty, frustrated, and robbed.
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