Sharapova rewriting the narrative, one dominant win at a time
Maria Sharapova often draws more attention off the court than with her play
Her dominant win over Gisela Dulko was a major statement to her game
Emptying the inbox: Musings on nationality, Roger Federer's form, more mail
We speak often of "statement wins," victories that enable players to advance in the draw and raise some eyebrows at the same time. These declarations come in a variety of ways.
It could be a young, hyped player outlasting an opponent in five sets, as Bernard Tomic, Grigor Dimitrov and Donald Young each did at the Australian Open on Monday -- a suggestion that their fitness and maturity might be catching up with their gifts.
It might be an often-injured player winning a match and announcing that he's healthy again. The oldest player in the men's draw, Tommy Haas -- once a top-five player before spending extended stints on tennis' disabled list -- won his first match and announced, "I'm not done yet."
Sorana Cirstea, a promising talent not long ago, dropped Sam Stosur -- the local favorite and the U.S. Open champion -- and sent the message, "Don't give up on my potential just quite yet."
But for pure statements, few spoke louder than Maria Sharapova did on Tuesday. Sharapova is a former champ in Melbourne (2008), a former No. 1 player and the No. 4 seed. She earns more than any female athlete on the planet. Yet she's been written off by most of the tennis salon. When we talk of the Big Three in the women's game, we speak of Petra Kvitova, Serena Williams and Kim Clijsters. The next analyst to pick her to win this event will be the first.
The conventional wisdom is that Sharapova is deep in the back nine of her career. That the field has caught up. That over the course of seven matches, eventually the yips will infect her serve. That her "make every shot a power shot" game, low as it is on tactics and versatility, will bite her.
Any and all of that may happen. But the 24-year-old Sharapova sure looked like a world-beater on Tuesday in her first match of the year. Sharapova drew Gisela Dulko, a notoriously dangerous and streaky player, who's beaten most of the top guns, including Sharapova at Wimbledon in 2009. And in roughly the time it will take for you to read this sentence, Sharapova administered a brutal thrashing, winning 6-0, 6-1.
This was vintage Sharapova, dictating points, ruthlessly pushing her opponent around the court, pounding her returns, minimizing her serving issues. (She can live with five double faults and three aces spread over seven games if she's striking the ball this cleanly.) She's healthy. She's in a good head space.
"I've been on the Tour for many years, played enough tournaments, I just want to be as ready as I can for the big ones," she said after the match.
Again and again, Sharapova has asserted that she doesn't mind flying under the proverbial radar, no longer top-of-mind in the tennis conversations. Be that as it may, Sharapova's results didn't speak for themselves on Tuesday. They screamed.
"Don't wanna be an American Idiot" by Green Day sums up my thoughts on American tennis. Mardy Fish's "I don't speak French, you dumbass" moment at the U.S. Open, and his UFC tough-guy act against a Bulgarian who thoroughly cleaned his clock (Bernard Tomic at the recent Hopman Cup). How about Andy Roddick's antics under the tunnel at the U.S. Open and his numerous umpire outbursts? Do I need to mention Serena Williams? Sorry, but as a fan of American tennis, I must look north. Go, Milos Raonic!
-- Jeffery Nielsen, Surprise, Ariz.
Did you sing "Don't wanna be an Austrian idiot" after Daniel Koellerer was banned for alleged match-fixing, among other breaches of decorum? Did you sing "Don't wanna be an Argentine idiot" after Mariano Puerta, Juan Ignacio Chela, Guillermo Canas and Guillermo Coria faced anti-doping sanctions last decade? Love (or hate, if you must) the player; leave the country code out of it.
I totally agree with you on the textured Roger Federer-Rafael Nadal rivalry and the sportsmanlike behavior that makes it possible to root for both. In the recent hullabaloo over the ATP schedule and prize money, I felt this quote by Nadal was quite telling: "He [Federer] finishes his career like a rose because he has a privileged physique. But neither [Andy] Murray nor [Novak] Djokovic nor I will finish fresh as a rose."
-- Nitin, Hyderabad, India
In Federer's defense: True, he was blessed by the genetic gods. True, his game is conducive to pounding -- especially compared to the toil and trouble of Nadal. But let's give Federer some credit for maintenance (i.e. professionalism) here. He picks his events judiciously. He trains consistently. He travels with a staff tasked with minimizing injury. (The others do, too, of course.) It can't only be good fortune that the guy has never missed significant time with an injury.
Anyone else find it interesting that Mats Wilander's multimillion-dollar home in Idaho does NOT have a tennis court?
-- David, Nelson, New Zealand
Hey, it's Idaho. Since two of you asked, let's be clear: That link was sent to me by the realtor. Never would I publicize someone's residence without consent. Also, this just in: Wilander fell in his Melbourne apartment and suffered a lacerated kidney. A heartfelt get-well soon to one of the all-time good guys.
Just wondering if you had noticed that all three of Lindsay Davenport's children have been born during a Grand Slam tournament: French Open 2007, Wimbledon 2009 and Australian Open 2012. What were the odds of that?
-- Mike, Newfane, N.Y.
What some people will do to get out of work ... (Congrats to the House of Davenport-Leach.)
Settling in for a great two weeks of Oz-Open tennis coverage, and I appreciate the ESPN2 team, even Brad Gilbert's roguish take on the game and the players. But can someone please introduce him to an adverb?
-- Paul, Boston, Mass.
And quickly! Seriously -- adverb! -- we give Gilbert grief from time to time, but let the record reflect that he does a great job. He's engaging, he's enthusiastic, he's creative in his way. For however comical his sports analogies and cliches sometimes get, I think he does a real service reminding viewers that tennis is a hardcore sport, not a country club pastime.
Great analogy, using the 1985 NBA draft lottery to answer a tennis question sent from London. If I sent you a tennis question, would you answer it with a 27-year-old cricket reference I probably wouldn't understand?
-- John Hillburg, Mount Prospect, Ill.
Well played! Your question, why, it's like the interrogative equivalent of Gary Sobers' six sixes in a single over.
Jon, as long as you're getting props on you Petra-fied forest pun, how about next time Bernard Tomic hits a powerful winner, we call it an aTomic Bomb? I'm here all fortnight, try the veal.
-- Neil Grammer, Toronto
And don't forget to tip your server. (Your last line reminded me of the joke: "Oh, mom, you're serving wienerschnitzel again?" he asked revealingly.)
Hola Jon!! Greetings from Mexico and my best wishes for you in 2012. I have an interesting trivia for you on the brink of the Aussie Open: Which lady was the best player ever from Hong Kong, born in Philippines, paired with the great Todd Woodbridge in juniors, was about to become a world top player, and only a career-ending back injury stopped her from reaching bigger heights? She is also my dearest friend, a wonderful lady and person I admire the most. Bonus points if you mention more facts about her.
-- Carlos Acosta, Torreon, Mexico
Stumped me. Anyone want to take a stab here?
Today's encounter with a pro:
David, Charlotte, N.C.: "I had a week-long business meeting in Miami and decided to stay in South Beach. It was at a nice, but not overly nice hotel a few rows off the water. Every morning I got up early and went and had breakfast and, with South Beach being the way it is, I was mostly alone. There was one couple eating every morning at the same time and on about Wednesday we started chatting about fresh breakfast, beautiful weather and what not. The couple could not have been nicer and more gracious. Mirka and Roger Federer. I had no clue until I saw his bags and figured out it was tournament week. He was way less famous then, but still No. 4 in the world. I became a huge fan."
Always enjoy Dave Seminara's historical pieces.
@tennisabides asks if Fernando Verdasco's sartorial inspiration came, perhaps, from this.
Mike Reed of Pittsburgh: "One follow-up to Jill Craybas' story: Don't forget that she also played college tennis at University of Florida, unlike many other pros. Go Gators!"
From USTA Serves: Charitybuzz.com is auctioning off two tickets to the day session of the quarterfinals and semifinals of the Australian Open. Bidding is open through Thursday here.
John of Greenville, S.C.: "Did you realize that the past eight Auckland winners have gone on to have career years: David Ferrer (career-best year in 2011), John Isner (best year up to that point), Juan Martin del Potro (best year so far in 2009), Philipp Kohlschreiber (career-best year in 2008), Ferrer (finishes 2007 No. 5, his best year up to that point) and Jarkko Nieminen, Fernando Gonzalez and Dominik Hrbaty (best years in 2006, 2005 and 2004, respectively). It was not the case between 2001-2003 (Gustavo Kuerten, Greg Rusedski and Hrbaty) but it was earlier when Magnus Norman had a career year in 2000, Sjeng Schalken had a personal-best year at that stage of his career in 1999, and Marcelo Rios' best was 1998. That's 11 out of the past 14 years. We should keep a close eye on this week's Auckland champ, Ferrer, throughout the remainder of 2012. Odds are he's on his way to his best year so far."
Marlene Sherlock of Glen Allen, Va.: "Here's an anti-anti-grunting rant from Homer Simpson (sorry I can't find a YouTube clip of it but you'll find it here at about the 8-minute mark). Something to the tune of: 'I do speak for the common man... who does his lousy job, goes to church twice a year...and watches women's tennis cause he likes to hear 'em grunt.' If Fox/The Simpsons/Homer is making fun of it, it's b-a-d."
Behind These Walls, a documentary about a tennis program for San Quentin prison inmates, will air several times on Tennis Channel during the Australian Open: Wed., Jan. 18, 11 p.m. ET; Fri., Jan. 20, 9 p.m. ET; Sat., Jan. 21, 10 p.m. ET; Mon., Jan. 23, 2 a.m. ET; and Sat. Jan. 28, 10 p.m. ET.
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