Category Archives: Maria Sharapova

AUSTRALIAN OPEN: From Valedictorians to Class Clowns, Here are Grades for the Year’s First Major

Maria Sharapova icing down during a match

Maria Sharapova icing down during a match

Stan Wawrinka, next banner up

Stan Wawrinka, next banner up

Genie Bouchard. Next.

Genie Bouchard. Next.

We got an inspirational new champion, a re-invented former champion, a few possible future champions and then, well, failure and theater of the absurd. Really, Australian Open officials? It’s OK to have players out there in 110 degree heat because people used to chase antelope in Africa?

WHAT?

So here are the final grades for the Australian Open, of valedictorians, teacher’s pets, class clowns and everything in between.

VALEDICTORIANS

LI NA: In a sport in need of mainstream attention, Li not only gives tennis something every sport dreams of – something to market to the massive population and economy of China – but also a post-championship match victory speech that goes viral. As a result, Li might be the most important player in the women’s game today, maybe even more than Serena Williams. Li was able to win the Australian Open without beating a top player, but that’s not her fault. Eight months ago, with her results failing and the Chinese media ripping her, Li nearly retired. Her work with new coach Carlos Rodriguez has helped the sport big time. Grade: A+

STAN WAWRINKA: Wawrinka’s championship was even more impressive than Li Na’s, considering the tougher competition he had to beat. He spent the past few years thinking he was never going to be able to break through the Big Four in men’s tennis, but finding honor in getting up after every defeat to keep fighting anyway. And then he took down Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal. You can’t win two major tennis matches by fluke. He earned this. Grade: A+

TEACHER’S PETS

ANA IVANOVIC: The game has just been waiting for her to get her nerve back. And she came out firing again. She beat Serena Williams, not to mention Sam Stosur, and showed that she’s perfectly capable of being a top 10 player again and a threat to win another major. . .if she keeps believing. Grade A-

ROGER FEDERER: New racquet, new coach (Stefan Edberg), new, aggressive gameplan. Same results? Federer lost to Rafael Nadal again. Well, that is a completely unfair analysis. Federer is finally doing all the right things. It is the only way he’s going to win another major, and he finally seems to realize that. It’s not just that he’s coming to the net, but that he’s trying to step into the ball and attack. Sure, he waffled on it against Nadal. This is all new to Fed. It was a GREAT first step. I was starting to watch him and wonder who he’d lose to next while slicing and dinking. Now, I can’t wait to see him. He still can’t beat Nadal, but he now is a threat to win another major or two. He still has game. He even has a legit shot at the French Open. Grade: A

DOMINIKA CIBULKOVA: Hard to know if Cibulkova just changed her career, but remember this: She came into the Australian Open as a known choker. She left with wins over No. 3 Maria Sharapova, No. 6 Aga Radwanska and No. 11 Simona Halep before reaching the final. Forgive her for some nerves early in her first major final. That happens. The thing about women’s tennis is that there are only a couple of superstars. The women’s players are sort of cookie-cutter, and if someone with talent and nerves of steel comes along, then it’s going to take a top player playing well to beat her. Hope is that this won’t be Cibulkova’s Melanie Oudin-moment, and that she’ll have found her nerve for the long run. Grade: A+

ACED THE CLASS, FLUNKED THE FINAL

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Aga Radwanska plays brilliantly, wins

Aga Radwanska plays stupidly, loses

Aga Radwanska plays stupidly, loses

AGA RADWANSKA: She might have played the match of the tournament in beating Victoria Azarenka. She was everywhere on the court, with just enough power. Azarenka was flustered and confused. And the media hailed Radwanska as a genius for that match. But in her semifinal match against Dominika Cibulkova, Radwanska played as if she had had a lobotomy. I’m not even sure Radwanska tried. When things weren’t working, she kept doing them. There was no hint of strategy. This is the problem with the almost-greats. You see incredible things, and then you are reminded why they don’t reach the mountaintop (see Tomas Berdych). Same thing happened with Radwanska at Wimbledon. So what’s the grade? Well, I think she’s good enough to win a major, and marketable enough to be a star. And that semifinal match was so bad, I can barely remember the Azarenka match. Grade: F.

TOMAS BERDYCH: He reached the semifinals, and then smiled and credited his team when he was told that he had become the only current player outside the Big Four to reach the semis of all four majors. Hey Tomas, that’s not really a compliment. Another way of putting it: You are the only player on tour to reach the semis of all four majors, but never win one. Berdych is adding topspin to his forehand, which is being credited for his recent improved play. I don’t know about that. That flat forehand was the reason he was winning matches. The way he fell apart briefly against David Ferrer in the quarters was shocking. Lost his nerve at moments against Stan Wawrinka in the semis, too, but in hindsight, it’s hard to mark him down too far for losing to the champ. One more thing: there was nothing wrong with Berdych’s much-criticized prison-cell shirts, other than his team was wearing them, too. Grade: B

DAVID FERRER: When he lost to Berdych in the quarters in what I’m calling the Bridesmaid Bowl, he lost his unofficial title as best player never to win a major. He pushed the line judge, too, but at least he isn’t hitting balls into the stands at crying babies anymore. Still fighting hard. Still stuck in the land of almost. Maybe Wawrinka’s win will show him what’s possible. Grade: C

Continue reading


WIMBLEDON: Strange Cats-and-Dogs Cultural Truth About Women and Men on Tour

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REPORTING FROM THE ALL ENGLAND CLUB IN WIMBLEDON

LONDON

It was 7-6 in the tiebreaker Sunday at Wimbledon, and Novak Djokovic was about to lose. “Moment of Truth,’’ he yelled, trying to pressure and intimidate the, well, the kid on the other side of the net.

It was the middle Sunday at Wimbledon, the day off. The Bryan brothers got off their practice court at the same time Juan Martin del Potro got off his, and they took pictures together. The Bryan Bros. posted one on their Twitter account.

Djokovic had somehow run into a highly ranked junior boy, and they practiced together for a few minutes, then played a tiebreaker. Djokovic was screaming at him, trash-talking him. Still, the kid won, and Djokovic dropped and gave five pushups.

This all comes together as just another example of a strange cultural truth in tennis that has become more and more evident the past two weeks: For some reason, the women on tour don’t seem to get along with each other, and the men do.

This Wimbledon started with a storyline about the bickering between Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova. Their dislike of each other was never exactly a secret, but it had never been this open before. Serena took shots, presumably at Sharapova, in an article in Rolling Stone magazine, and Sharapova shot back that if Serena wants to talk about personal things, she should stick to the fact that she’s a homewrecker.

It just seemed like a fun-to-watch personal thing. But more and more, things anecdotally keep popping up to show that it’s bigger than that.

“I think so,’’ John Isner told me early last week with a laugh that seemed to say, `That’s the understatement of the year.’ The women, you don’t even see them practice together. It’s weird.’’

By contrast, Isner said that on Monday, he and Roger Federer happened to be in the locker room at the same time.

“We were in the showers, and started talking WWE (professional wrestling),’’ Isner said. “I kid you not.’’

Please read the rest of the column here 


WIMBLEDON: Oh No, Sharapova Loses. Wimbledon Catfight `13 Already Over

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REPORTING FROM THE ALL ENGLAND CLUB IN WIMBLEDON

With a whole lot of yelling and screaming, poof, there went the fun we were expecting for two weeks at Wimbledon. Sharapova lost 6-3, 6-4 in the second round Wednesday to Michelle Larcher de Brito. They are two of the loudest grunters on tour.

No more snickering comments back and forth with Serena Williams. It was supposed to be two full weeks of uncivil behavior, just what tennis needs. Serena kicked it off with her shots in Rolling Stone magazine.

Wimbledon Catfight 2013 is over and done. Serena wins that, too, just by surviving the first Wednesday of the tournament.

Did it all get to Sharapova?

Please read the rest of the column here

 


WIMBLEDON Perfect Timing: Serena-Sharapova on Top of Games, Bickering as Wimby Starts

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You have to go back a little ways, and know that this Serena Williams-Maria Sharapova feud is not new, and not just about some catty remarks about boyfriends.

It is incredible timing that just as Wimbledon is about to begin, the two best tennis players in the world are having it out this way. Williams said that Sharapova is boring and won’t be invited to “the cool parties.’’ Sharapova responded that Williams is a homewrecker, breaking up the marriage of a man with kids.

Let’s just say that this isn’t the usual guy-feud you see in sports.

But this rivalry has been around for a while, usually bubbling hot under the surface. Think of it this way: Williams represents breaking down doors in tennis, an African-American without the traditional tennis body type. And Sharapova? She represents the door.

The idyllic stereotype for tennis: tall, blonde, skinny, white, beautiful.

Please read the rest of the column here at FoxSports.com

 


OLYMPICS: Serena Williams Brings Crip Walk to Centre Court? What Did She Mean?

REPORTING FROM THE LONDON OLYMPICS

LONDON, ENGLAND – The Queen of England was coming to Wimbledon for the first time in 33 years, and it was a special moment that Serena Williams opened up for. She was a little giddy and a lot respectful about the chance to curtsy for the Queen on Centre Court.

“I’m definitely going to work on it a little more,’’ Williams said. “I’m trying to tone down my wrist action. But my curtsy is really fun. It’s something that she’ll definitely never forget, if I ever get a chance to meet her.’’

That was two years ago, and when the big day came, Wimbledon officials placed Williams out on Court 2, where the Queen wouldn’t see her. Instead, Serena was on a court of the people, not a high-dollar show court. Williams never complained, but instead stayed after the match and signed autographs for kids who couldn’t normally see her.

So let’s be a little careful about how far we go with Williams’ little victory dance Saturday on Centre Court, in front of royalty, after winning the Olympic gold medal. She beat Maria Sharapova 6-0, 6-1 in maybe the greatest match of her career, and surely the most dominant week. The Great American Tennis Story, from Compton to Centre Court, had her own crowning moment.

And instead of a curtsy, she did a Crip Walk on Centre Court. It’s a hip-hop street dance move, done by gang members over dead bodies. It was started in Compton by gang members. But it has, to some extent, begun to break into pop culture, though MTV once declined to show any videos that included the walk.

So was that a cocky endzone dance from Williams? Payback for stiffing her in front of the Queen? Or maybe rubbing it in to Sharapova, the stereotypical white tennis ideal – tall, blonde, thin and beautiful – who gets more endorsement money than Williams despite lesser accomplishments? Or maybe it was a raised middle finger at the tennis world for all Serena has been through over the years? Continue reading


WIMBLEDON: So Much for the Reborn It Girl. Sharapova Loses Instead of Sticking it to Gilles Simon

REPORTING FROM WIMBLEDON, ENGLAND — So much for Maria Sharapova as tennis’ reborn “it girl.”

While men’s tennis thrives on Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal making history every few months, the women’s game plays on without a leader.

When Sharapova won her first French Open a few weeks ago and became No. 1 again, bringing her star power along, the question was whether women’s tennis finally had a leader it could count on and build from, or whether Sharapova was only “It” in lieu of anyone else.

On Monday, she lost to 15th seed Sabine Lisicki 6-4, 6-3 in the fourth round at Wimbledon and will lose her No. 1 ranking when Wimbledon is over.

And just like that, women’s tennis is a mess again.

Please read the rest of my column, at FoxSports.com

WIMBLEDON: While Men’s Tennis Thrives on Great Rivalries, Women Can’t Get The Rivalry on Court

Don’t let a friendly moment between rivals fool you

(published June 24, 2012) Tennis cannot get The Match on the court. It never plays out. It’s funny, too, because tennis has been thriving on rivalries. Fans know that history will be made at Wimbledon, which starts tomorrow, because it happens every major. Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal were the best individual rivalry in sports, and when that one slipped a little, poof, Nadal and Novak Djokovic became the best.

It was seamless. They are always playing for some record, reaching some new height. It’s in such contrast to the women’s game, which has the best rivalry in sports that never happens.

Can we finally get Serena Williams to play Maria Sharapova in a Wimbledon final? They are still the marquee women’s rivalry, complete with tension between players and fan bases, different looks, different styles.

“Tennis is more interesting when you do have rivalries, and you do have contrasting players and you do have different sets of fans for different players,’’ Chris Evert said this week on an ESPN media conference call. Evert has a little experience with game-defining rivalries: Evert-Martina Navratilova.

Williams-Sharapova looked like the start of a big thing back in 2004, when Sharapova, the teenager, crushed Williams in the Wimbledon final. Eight years later, they have played each other just. . .

Eight more times. And women’s tennis has been more like men’s golf than men’s tennis, with a different winner in every major.

Some guy named Webb won the U.S. Open in golf. Do you remember who won the Masters? Bubba. Nine majors, nine different winners.

Please read the rest of my column at The Daily


WIMBLEDON: Women’s Preview Video

It has been a long time since Maria Sharapova won Wimbledon. Is she ready to do it again?

(June 23, 2102) Here is a video on FoxSports.com previewing the women’s draw at Wimbledon. I pull for a Serena Williams-Maria Sharapova final.

Click here to watch at Fox Sports.com


FRENCH OPEN: Maria Sharapova Not Just for Show. Killer Barbie Back to No. 1

 

Maria Sharapova could be Danica Patrick now. She surely could have been a Go Daddy girl while dabbling in sports on the side. It would have been so easy.

Instead, with her win Thursday in the semifinals at the French Open, Sharapova will move to No. 1 in the world. She came back from career-threatening shoulder surgery. She still fights the yips on her serve at times. And a win in the final Saturday against Sara Errani will give her a career Grand Slam — at least one title in every major.

Sharapova would be just the 10th female tennis player in history to have done that. Even Venus Williams hasn’t done it.

“It’s a pretty nice feeling,’’ she told reporters as she left the court after her 6-3, 6-3 victory over Petra Kvitova. “I did not know that that (No. 1 ranking) would happen again a few years ago. So I’m just happy to be in this position.’’

When you think of Sharapova, do you think of one of the most focused, determined athletes in the world?

She is. She is Killer Barbie.

And this is just to give people a better feel for what they’re looking at. Or, as Nike is already putting it in an ad: “THOSE WHO BELONG AT THE TOP NEVER FORGET THEIR WAY BACK.’’

The balance of sex appeal and athleticism is always a factor in women’s sports. To be honest, plenty of men are watching women’s tennis for the sex-appeal side of the equation. And there’s always a debate about whether selling sex appeal cheapens the women’s sport or just celebrates athletic bodies. So when someone like Patrick, or Anna Kournikova a few years back, makes huge sponsor dollars without winning anything, it just doesn’t look good. You can’t really expect them to pass up golden opportunities, but it’s hard to say they send the right message to your daughters.

Sharapova does.

Please read the rest of this column at FoxSports.com


WIMBLEDON: Breakthrough of a Generation, Petra Kvitova Wins While Maria Sharapova Folds

 

Petra Kvitova beats Maria Sharapova to win Wimbledon

 

This was the breakthrough of a new generation and the breakdown of a champion. Those things worked together, as Petra Kvitova won Wimbledon Saturday, beating Maria Sharapova 6-3, 6-4. Every major in women’s tennis lately seems to produce a heart-warming story of some emerging 29-year old, or the dominance of someone coming back from retirement/maternity leave. Kvitova becomes the first player born in the 1990s to win a major.

So this is a big welcome to women’s tennis’ Generation Next. It’s about time you’ve arrived. Finally, women’s tennis has something to look forward to instead of something to try to hang onto.

“I like the big, big challenges like this one,’’ Kvitova said in an interview with NBC as she left the court. “I like the final and the big crowd and big matches. It’s, uh, I don’t’ know, I just played my best tennis and I won.’’

Nervous?

“I was nervous before the match. When I came on the court, it was OK.’’

And that described the match perfectly. Kvitova was impressively calm. Sharapova, the experienced one, was a mess. Continue reading


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