August 16, 2013

One and Done

It's been a weird couple days in women's tennis -- yesterday we got the surprising announcement that Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli was retiring from the sport, just weeks after winning the biggest title of her career, and today we learned that Maria Sharapova had parted ways with Jimmy Connors, brought on as her coach after a shocking second-round loss at the All England Club. Neither of these were snap decisions, I'm sure -- there was probably a lot of thought and discussion that went into both -- but the abruptness of both certainly highlight some major differences.

Bartoli had played a handful of matches since that unbelievable run in London, but stopped short during her second round in Toronto and lost her opener this week in Cincinnati. Citing pain from a series of injuries throughout her career, she told the press through tears that her body couldn't take it any longer, a sentiment to which more than a few of her colleagues could certainly relate.

Marion first made a name for herself in 2007 when, as the #18 seed, she beat superstars like Jelena Jankovic and Justine Henin on her way to the Wimbledon final. She lost there, of course, and didn't win another title for more than two years, ultimately avenging that defeat to Venus Williams in the 2009 Stanford final. And though she had trouble putting hardware on her shelf -- in thirteen years as a pro she won a relatively sparse eight titles and needed forty-seven Major appearances before finally bringing home the grand prize -- but she had hung a couple big scalps on her wall. She stunned Serena Williams during her 2011 Wimbledon comeback and delivered Victoria Azarenka her first loss last season in the Miami quarterfinals. Her win last month at the All England Club put her back at a career high ranking of #7 in the world, making her departure from the sport just when she's playing her best all the more surprising.

Sharapova's decision may not have been as drastic a move, but it certainly was quite dramatic. After cutting ties with Thomas Högstedt, who'd joined her camp at the start of the 2011 season and helped her return to the top ten and eventually complete the career Grand Slam, she signed on with eight-time Major winner Jimmy Connors. The choice elicited more than a few raised eyebrows, with some pundits questioning how well the two strong personalities would meld while others hoped Connors might have MaSha the boost she needed to finally get the better of unquestioned #1 Serena Williams.

The pair's first match together didn't quiet the critics -- after pulling out of the Rogers Cup, Sharapova seemed to be back in form in Cincinnati, pulling together a 6-2, 2-0 lead on unseeded U.S. #2 Sloane Stephens in her opener. But the Russian seemed to lose focus and self-control and a barrage of errors turned the tide quickly, eventually sending Sharapova packing after almost two-and-a-half hours of play.

But Connors' shift would soon be over, as Sharapova shortly thereafter announced the split. Having previously said she wouldn't accept a wildcard to New Haven next week, she now heads to New York coach-less and with a less-than-extraordinary 1-2 record since the French Open, calling into question her chances to take home the trophy at the Open.

Ultimately each lady's decision this week tells a different tale of patience. Bartoli, who'd been toiling away and pushing through the pain for years, finally had enough, while Sharapova apparently realized immediately that something very specific wasn't working for her. That's not to say these choices won't serve one better than the other, of course -- after all, in a sport where patience is so often a virtue, in some cases it's the calls you make on the fly that turn out the best.

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