May 18, 2009

The Weight of the World on Her (Right) Shoulder

The Warsaw Open wouldn't traditionally be one most tennis fans watch closely. In fact it wasn't even played last year -- Justine Henin last won in 2007 over Alona Bondarenko.

But this year the thirty-two main draw tournament is sure to attract some added interest -- it marks the return of Maria Sharapova to the singles circuit after a nagging shoulder injury sidelined her for nine-months.

Her reemergence couldn't have come sooner. She'd attempted to get back in the doubles game in March, but lost the opening round. As of the latest rankings, she'd fallen out of the top 100 for the first time since 2003, when she was sixteen years old.

And in her 2009 singles debut, she showed signs of the brilliance that has won her three Grand Slam titles -- along with indications that she may not have yet fully recovered.

In the first round she faced Italian Tathiana Garbin, who won her only tour title in Budapest at the turn of the century. Though Garbin had climbed to a career-high ranking of #22 a few years back, she's now hanging around the mid-sixties, ironically where Maria was just last week. In her prime Sharapova should have handled the Italian easily.

The match began just as it should have -- Maria's first serve was on fire, landing in 83% of the time during the opening set. She broke her opponent four times and ran off with an early 6-1 lead. But things unravelled a bit in the second, and it looked like her comeback might have been premature -- the former #1 double-faulted five times and, despite being down a break to start, Garbin evened things up to force a close tiebreak and a deciding set.

By the time she was down 0-2 in the final I feared Maria's injury had been further aggravated and that maybe she should have taken a few more weeks to heal. But then, behind 1-3, she rattled off five straight games to win her first singles match since August.

In a tough draw, she'll likely face Caroline Wozniacki -- who climbed to a career-high #10 ranking this week -- in the second round. It's a hard match to call, but I'm hoping a little chip (of ice) on her shoulder tonight will get her in shape to face and advance past the teenager. Not that I have anything against Caroline, but the tennis world is aching for Maria to get on the court in top form, and bring some much-need spark back to the women's game!

And I think now is just the time for her to do it!

1 comment:

Kavitha said...

Turns out Maria actually won't face Wozniacki in the next round -- last week's runner up in Madrid pulled out of Warsaw with a lower back injury.

Here's hoping she's up and running for the French! And that this is a good omen for Maria!