Jun 24th, 2010, 12:09 AM
Join Date: Sep 2008
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She’s Got the Look
By Nick Bollettieri
After two years struggling with injuries, Nick Bollettieri sees that old, fierce look in Maria Sharapova’s eye. Bollettieri analyzes her first-round rout of Anastasia Pivovarova and looks at her chances for the rest of the tournament.
I’ve known Maria Sharapova since she was 7 years old and I know when she’s mentally prepared. When I saw her at the post-match press conference after her rout of Anastasia Pivovarova in the first round, she had an intense look. She was graceful as always, but she also had a workman-like attitude that, though she’s just 23, reminded me of Andre Agassi late in his career. With confidence in her corner, I think Maria’s mental strength could carry her late into the second week. The on-court presence and off-court focus I’ve seen from her lately brings back memories from her early years in Florida.
When she arrived at IMG Academies in Bradenton, Fla., many years ago, Maria had a hunger to succeed like few I’d seen before. When I say few, I’m referring to players like Boris Becker, Jim Courier and Monica Seles. That desire to be the best got her to the Wimbledon winner’s stand as a 17-year-old in 2004. As a coach, seeing her fall to the ground with excitement was so gratifying. Her hard work and sacrifice had finally paid off.
Maria went on to win two more majors and reach the pinnacle of the sport, but her injuries and erratic play in the past couple of years crushed her confidence. Knowing Maria, though, I was sure those years of disappointing play wouldn’t last. Now in 2010, and especially in her opening round here at Wimbledon, I’ve noticed certain improvements in Maria’s game that should put her back where she belongs—on top of the women’s tour.
The Serve Doctor
When Maria first came on tour, her 6-foot-2 frame and fluid service motion made it almost impossible for opponents to break her. She could hit every spot in the service box with varying speeds and also had a great kick serve that completed her arsenal. With shoulder injures creeping up in the last couple of years, her serve has weakened and even disappeared at times. The scary part for the rest of the WTA tour is that the 2010 edition of Maria comes with an improved delivery. Her serve was excellent against Pivovarova—she won 94 percent of her first serve points.
Offense, Offense, Offense
Maria plays her best tennis when she has an offensive mind-set from the baseline. Punishing second-serve returns, pouncing on short balls, and looking to approach the net are all key parts of her game that I noticed when watching her in the first round. If she can continue to hug the baseline and put pressure on her opponents from the first ball, she’ll be able to shorten points and play at a pace that’s comfortable for her. When she faces tougher competition late in the tournament, though, she’ll need to control her aggressiveness and pick her targets to keep her unforced errors to a minimum.
As I tell all my students, I told Maria to take it one match a time. I can see her confidence growing day by day, but she must focus on the here and now in order to make a great run. A round of 16 meeting with Serena Williams will be a huge test for Maria, but I think her grass-court game will cause all kinds of trouble for the No. 1 seed. As one of Wimbledon’s own, the crowd loves watching Maria play and would love to see her make it late into the second week. I can tell you this much—I don’t think Maria plans on leaving Centre Court anytime soon.
Nick Bollettieri of the IMG/Bollettieri Tennis Academy has trained many collegiate and professional players, including 10 who reached the world No. 1 ranking.
Jun 24th, 2010, 04:16 PM
Join Date: Sep 2004
Location: The Netherlands
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Q. You seemed quite aggressive from the start today. Was that part of the game plan?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Yeah, it was. Then I kind of backed up, let her back in the match literally. You know, I did a really good job of that from the beginning. Definitely, you know, when I do that, I feel really good about my game. I just kind of stopped in the middle of the second set and let her back in.
But, fortunately, I was able to get that break back.
Q. I know it isn't exactly the women's case, but how do you feel about those guys playing more than 200 games maybe? You think it should be decided by a tiebreaker?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Yeah, I'd be checking myself into the local hospital at that point (smiling). It's pretty incredible what they've done. I think at this point maybe the rules will be changed at a certain point you're going to have to play a tiebreaker.
It's an amazing effort at that point in the match to come out and to be able to hit such powerful strokes and serves and just keep doing it over and over. But over a certain period of time, I think it takes a toll on your body mentally and physically.
I mean, probably the rule will change, but you never know.
Q. If you ended up playing to 20 all...
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Which would never happen, probably (laughter).
Q. If you had a different shoulder and the match went on that long, would you want a tiebreaker or do you think you're just going to play forever, this is how it goes?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: I've personally never been in that position, so it's tough for me to say.
But I think after playing for nine hours, you'd want to settle it with a tiebreaker.
Q. Even when you were growing up and practicing, what kind of would be the longest you played tennis continuously, comparing it to the two guys on court?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Oh, they've played way beyond whatever I've practiced or combined three or four days that I'm still not at nine hours (laughter).
I mean, it's heroic. What can you say? It's pretty incredible. To still have to go out there and know that the match is not finished, it could still go on for another 20, 40 games. I don't know.
Q. Are you completely fit now in your own mind? Are you absolutely sure you're fit? How much has it taken for you to get back to that position?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: I think it's pretty tough to always say you're fit and you feel great. I mean, we're professional athletes. We don't wake up in the morning and say, Everything feels perfect. Maybe when we're very young. But at this point in our careers, when we play tennis on a daily basis, we practice, we go play matches, it's impossible to feel fit. That's the way it goes.
I mean, as far as physically and fitness wise, yeah, I feel really good.
Q. I was thinking more of the surgery you had.
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Yeah, like I said in my previous interviews, it feels a lot better than I did last year when I was sitting here.
Q. When the ball's bouncing close to the baseline around the brown spots, are you starting to get bad bounces?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Just a few. Just a few. But that's normal. It's to be expected. When we're practicing at Aorangi, the courts are pretty chewed up. We're used to that.
Q. Do you feel the courts are playing fairly fast because of the weather?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: The weather's certainly helping them. When I played on the championship courts a few days ago just as practice before the tournament started, they were playing pretty slow. But it was kind of cloudy, not as warm. So that's helping, for sure.
Q. There was a point in the second game of the second set where your opponent went to the replay. It showed that your shot landed a good foot inside the baseline. She seemed to clearly think that either the technology was malfunctioned or had shown the wrong replay. What was your view of that?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: I was pretty positive that that ball was in. I challenged it right away before I even hit it. I knew it was going in. The lines judge called it out after she hit the ball. So I'm not even sure if she was clear on her thoughts because my opponent had already hit the ball and then had her long, then she called it.
But I knew that my ball was in.
Q. Do you generally trust the system a hundred percent?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Yeah. That's why it's in place.
Q. Given the severity of your injury, the difficulty of the comeback from that type of injury, how much do you think about a possible future without tennis? What options did you think about for the future?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Uhm, I mean, I've set up myself pretty well for things that I can do after my tennis career. But that never really crossed my mind 'cause I was always gearing up to get back. You know, I've been fortunate to do, uhm, and to work with different people in different industries that have really made my life interesting and fun and creative. Fashion and things like that.
Uhm, I would certainly explore that after my career.
Q. How special does it feel to reach the third round, given what's happened to you over the last couple of years here?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Yeah, I knew that coming into this match that last year, uhm, I was on the plane the next day after I lost. So, uhm, I really thought about it, especially towards the end of the match. I was really excited to get through.
Q. Perhaps you didn't have a chance to see the Queen because you were playing, but what do you think of the visit?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: I think it's wonderful and so great for our sport that she was able to, you know, take some time from her really busy schedule and come out and just be a part of Wimbledon, the tradition that we feel to be a part of on a yearly basis.
To see her here and support it was great. I didn't get the opportunity to meet her. Had a match to play. But, I mean, I'm sure I'll see highlights of her watching the match and it will be pretty cool to see.
Q. What do you think the importance of that Isner match is to the sport? What effect do you think it will have?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Well, it's amazing what they've done. I think they've created some crazy news around the world, which is great for the sport. Even for people that don't have any interest in tennis, you know, I think they read about it and see it and think how amazing it is. It's wonderful for our sport.
Q. Putting yourself aside, it hasn't been a great year for Russian women. Can you put your finger on it at all or do you think things tend to be cyclical?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: We've been really fortunate with our results over the years. To have so many girls in the top 10. To not have as many as we're used to, I mean, is maybe a bit of a surprise.
But that's the way it goes. Hopefully that will be changed soon.
I think it's really interesting that she said that she thought a lot about her early exits at the end of the match. She might have felt a little nervous halfway through that second set.
Maria Sharapova: Career Slam Winner
Wimbledon 2004 US Open 2006
Australian Open 2008 Roland Garros 2012 2014
0013..Eternal follower of the Golden Girl
Jun 26th, 2010, 05:38 PM
Join Date: May 2010
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Q. Was that a really useful workout or harder than you would have liked?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: She was a really, really tough opponent, especially on grass. Uhm, you know, a lot of the balls she hit just stayed really low. In the beginning I had a little bit of trouble with that and I was making a few more errors than I should have.
But then, you know, I picked myself up, which is good. But it was good to have that, kind of be down a break, have to fight back. She served very well, as well. So it was a good match.
Q. Do you think facing Serena Williams has come too early for you in the draw?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Absolutely not. I love playing against her. I love playing against, you know ‑‑ she's the defending champion. You know, she's great on this surface. She's won numerous Grand Slams. Uhm, you know, if there's a challenge ahead of you, it's definitely playing against her, and I enjoy that.
Q. Obviously we remember you playing here most of all, you probably remember most of all, beating her in 2004. Can you tell us a bit about how you think back to that?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Yeah, I think that was our last meeting on grass. It's tough to take anything away from that match as it was many years ago. You know, this will be a new day. I don't really think about, you know, yesterday or the day before. Whoever I play when I go out there, it's a new match. You have to take it as a new day.
Q. You must still have some happy memories of it.
MARIA SHARAPOVA: There are always wonderful memories. But when you step out on the court, it's new. You've got to start from scratch. The score is 0‑0.
Q. How different are you as a person and as a player now to the 17‑year‑old girl then?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Uhm, I mean, I think at that age when you're just playing a few tournaments, not many people know about you or your game. I've been around the tour for many years now. So I think Serena and I know each other's game pretty well now. Even though we haven't played in a while, I mean, we play the same tournaments. I'm sure we see each other's matches, yeah.
But it's been many years.
Q. Do you have to do anything different against her or is it all going to be on execution?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Execution's a big part. Also just staying aggressive. You know, she's a really big hitter. She is a big server. You've got to really take your chances when you have them.
Even if you don't have many, you got to really, really take advantage of what you get, stick to what you do best, as well.
Q. Some of your matches, getting a quick start seems to have played a big factor. I remember Wimbledon 2004, you came out smoking. Is that going to be a factor, do you think?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: I mean, we'll see after the match. I don't know. I mean, I wish I could tell you. But I don't know.
Q. What is your most memorable match against her?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: I think we've played a few times. But that was definitely, uhm, the one here was definitely memorable because it was the second time I played against her. The first time I was, uhm, kind of blew me off the court in Miami. I was so overwhelmed by her power, you know, how strong she hit the ball. So, you know, to change that a few months later, I was just really proud of myself.
It was great that I played her before. I think that really helped me.
Q. She still hits the ball as hard as she did then. You obviously must feel that you hit it a lot harder now that you can match her for that pace and power.
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Yeah. I mean, tennis is obviously not just about power. I think on grass it's a big key to the game. But I don't think that's everything in tennis.
Q. You've been coming in to net not a lot, but certainly more than 2004. Do you feel you're comfortable up there? Is it like 50% comfortable?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: I think it helps my groundies. You know, when I'm looking to be aggressive and looking to come in, I mean, it's just common sense there's going to be something more on the ball than if you hit it and just stay back and wait for your opponent to miss.
So when I'm aggressive and I'm moving in and I'm taking, you know, balls out of the area, you know, I'm not a player that's going to come to the net and start hitting three, four, five volleys in a row. I'm looking to come in and finish the point off there.
Q. How much of the match is going to be a mental battle rather than a physical battle with Serena?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Uhm, I don't know. I don't know. I mean, uhm, mental, physical... Every match is a little bit of that.
Q. This could go deep into the third set. If it does, does that favor either one of you?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: I don't think it should be discussed because we don't really know if it's going to or not.
Q. Since you came back from your shoulder injury, do you feel you're now all the way back? Do you think you are now the player that you were, or is there still some way to go before you reach the peak you were at?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Uhm, I think there's still some improvements to be done and things to get better. I mean, to be honest, I look back, and it's tough to compare yourself, uhm, to what you were a few years ago. It's a different time in my career.
Q. Could you talk about a big rivalry match like this and how it compares to a standard or regular match? When you know you're going up against a big rival, do you like it? Do you find yourself more engaged? Does it change your preparation in any way?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Yeah, you know, I'd call it a rivalry when I win a few more against her (laughter). I mean, I've lost the last few.
But I absolutely enjoy it. You know, we certainly had a good, you know, rivalry building up. We haven't played for a while, and I was out of the game for a bit. I mean, we never really clashed. You know, that's what I thrive on. I love going on the court and playing someone that's, you know, obviously the favorite to win the match.
Q. I know you reached the semis of Roland Garros last year. But is this the best you've felt form‑wise at a slam?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Last year?
Q. Quarters, sorry.
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Quarters.
Q. I know you reached quarters there. But is this the best you felt at a slam form‑wise since the shoulder surgery?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Yeah. You know, like I said, I've been really happy in the last few weeks I've been able to play matches and come through some tough ones against good opponents that really challenged me and stay healthy. That's really been the key. That's certainly really important going forward.
You know, it's great to be back in the second week of a slam, yeah.
Q. What is the main difference between playing Serena versus Venus?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: I mean, both are really powerful. Both move really well. I don't really know the difference.
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