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WTA not the same without the shrieking Sharapova

Wednesday, February 11, 2009 | Feedback | Print Entry


Posted by Tom Perrotta, TENNIS.com

Perhaps you're not the biggest fan of Maria Sharapova. Her game lacks variety, you say, and she isn't exactly graceful. You think she plays too slowly, that she has no touch, no subtlety and, worst of all, no regard for your eardrums. These are all fair criticisms, yet I'm guessing that even you would admit -- painful as it might be -- that tennis is not the same without Maria.



You thought those shrieks were loud? Well, now it's too quiet, even dull. You didn't like the icy stare? Well, it beats the scared looks you see these days. You thought Sharapova's bash, bash, bash approach was boring? Without her, the whole sport is boring, because no woman not named Williams believes she can win.



I've never enjoyed Sharapova's tennis. If I want to watch power ball, I much prefer the Williams sisters, who play it with more conviction and verve. If I want artistry, well, no one tops the (sadly) retired Justine Henin.



While in Melbourne for the Australian Open, though, I quickly came to realize that I badly missed Sharapova's spirit, her toughness and her tenacity. Of all the talented women tennis players who hail from Russia -- and the list is too long to publish here -- Sharapova is the only one who can be called a champion. The rest of the Russians, and perhaps the rest of the women's field (save for the Williams sisters), are merely very good, and that's not good enough for a sport to succeed in the long term. Sharapova might not unseat Serena from the No. 1 ranking, either, but at least she'll die trying.



We won't see Sharapova on a tennis court again until next month at the earliest, and perhaps later, as she continues to recover from shoulder surgery. (On her Web site, she says she is "aiming" for a return in Palm Springs or Miami, two of the largest tournaments outside the four majors.) Shoulder injuries have ended many a tennis career; let's hope that's not the case here.



As it is, Sharapova will have a difficult time regaining the form that won her the Australian Open in 2008. Back then, she looked truly ready -- after years of false impressions -- to dominate the sport, to set the standard for the rest of the field. It might be a year or more before Sharapova regains the strength and power of concentration to play like that again. The sooner she does, the better off the women's game will be.
 
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