How can I put this? It’s been an “interesting” US Open series. For fans of tennis, this part of the year is great because there is almost non-stop tennis for four solid weeks on both the WTA and ATP tours. It hasn’t been without its fair share of drama, however. The Rogers Cup tournaments in Toronto and Montreal read like the book of revelations with biblical strength rainstorms, stadium lights falling from the sky, blackouts, and the two no.1s (Nadal and Wozniacki) going down in their first matches. If you were any sort of top player, you wouldn’t have been faulted for keeping one eye open at night, which is what I’m sure the eventual champions Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic were undoubtedly doing.
When the world seems to be in chaos it’s no surprise that the one player we might be able to look to as our rock, the kind of solid player that we can look to for comfort and assurance that things are going to be OK is Maria Sharapova. The most amazing thing about Maria is that nothing seems to faze her. No matter how poorly she plays, even as the double faults enter that double-digit stage and we watch another forehand spray out by inches, she has been the only drama-free part of the past few weeks.
Granted, the future Mrs. Sasha Vujacic (or is he the future Mr. Maria Sharapova?) has been on slow, but alarmingly steady rise back to her former glory since 2009. This year, she has squeezed her way back into a volatile top 10 and is on track to crack the top 5 by the end of the year. This is in contrast with the return of Serena Williams, who makes us forget that not everyone can come back from a full year off the tour and win two back-to-back titles (ahem, Serena), in fact I’m pretty sure I hallucinated that whole thing.
However, the steady rise that Maria has taken is something we can all learn from, current players included. She started the US Open series with a small hiccup against none other than Serena Williams in Stanford where the things we love most about Maria, the serve and that forehand, decided to take a little hiatus. No worries, Maria was back in form the next week in Toronto where she made it through her first round, but eventually fell to a qualifier. Here was an opportunity for us to throw our hands up and say “well, that was not good!” but when Maria gets a result like this, we know we just need to be a little patient, because it will get better.
As if on cue she found her rhythm and has made it to the final in Cincinnati. There seems to be a common theme this year for Maria. The tennis calendar is divided into little sections: hardcourt season, clay season, grass season, and second hardcourt season. Maria has managed to end every one of these seasons on an upward slope. By the end of the first hardcourt season, she was the runner-up in Miami. By the end of the Clay season, she had won the title in Rome and made it to the French Open semifinals. By the end of the grass season, she had made it to the Wimbledon final. If history tends to repeat itself, then Maria is right on track to make a deep run at the US Open. No one should be surprised if she does.
Perhaps the most telling stat this year about how far Maria has come since her famous shoulder surgery (that for many could have easily ended a career) is that she has not lost a single 3 set match this year. In fact the last 3-setter she lost was in September 2010 to Kimiko Date-Krumm in Tokyo. A stat like this can easily win her the award for “most mentally tough” on the WTA.
With all the buzz surrounding Serena Williams and Wimbledon champ Petra Kvitova who have busted out in a big way this summer, we shouldn’t forget those players that have risen to the top in a more conventional way. Maria Sharapova is that player, and I wouldn’t be surprised if she makes a new addition to her trophy room in 3 weeks.