To me, this is essentially Maria's first tournament of the year. Any bit of tennis conditioning and rhythm she gained from Brisbane, Melbourne, and Paris was sacrificed when she went to Sochi. I'm glad she went to the Olympics and experienced the great honor she had, but after another long lay-off, I see her starting 2014 over again.
So I don't believe Maria should be under a lot of pressure here to win and I'm not going to stress out too much over her form. There's going to be rust and there's going to be struggles with aspects of her game. Any deep run or even a title would be a massive bonus in my mind. I just want her to leave IW with her health intact and a little bit more confidence heading to Miami. That will be the tournament where I'll be expecting her to look more comfortable and start building momentum for the clay season.
I don't want to say that I see IW as just a glorified exhibition for Maria, but I think she deserves a break from pressure and high expectations because she just hasn't had the chance to play much tennis for 9 months, through no fault of her own. Now, if she can rise up and go on a title run, that would be beyond awesome and be one of her greatest accomplishments ever. But I won't be upset by any loss here.
Unless it's to Vika in the final. That would make me sick.