At the age of 25, Maria Sharapova is something of a veteran of the women’s Tour and at times, she feels like it. The Russian has had more than her fair share of injuries, including a career-threatening shoulder problem that required surgery, time off and enormous patience on her part.
That wasn’t easy for someone as restless as Sharapova, who burst onto the scene when she won Wimbledon as a fresh-faced 17-year-old. In the eight years since, she has won three grand slam titles to complete the full set and those days when she considered quitting the sport seem a long time ago now.
Indeed, what is remarkable and impressive about Sharapova is that she seems to be improving. While she may struggle to blast as many players off the court as she once did, such have been the advances in power in the women’s game, 2012 threatens to be her best ever.
Certainly there is a good argument to be made that it is her most consistent to date. Until this year, Sharapova had never managed to reach two grand slam finals in the same season. Starting with Wimbledon 2011, she reached three out of four grand slam finals, a run that ended with a first French Open triumph this June. Going into this week’s Beijing event, she had picked up three singles titles and her record for the year stood at 51-9.
Her best ever record was 59-9 in 2006 so it’s possible that she could better that, by winning in Beijing and in her final event of the year, at the WTA Championships in Istanbul. She has swapped the No 1 ranking with Victoria Azarenka a couple of times this year and a successful Istanbul would see her breathing down the neck of the Belarussian once more.
After winning the French Open in June, Sharapova said she had needed to be patient in her recovery. “It took a lot of time, it took a lot of bad losses, it took a lot of bad days,” she said. “It certainly didn't come easy for me.”
"There's nothing that I've done in my life that has given me the same experience as being on the court. It's not like you're a great actress and you can be so good but nobody goes and watches your films, or you can be the greatest model in the world but if somebody doesn't put you on the cover of a magazine, you're never going to be famous.
"This sport, it's all in your own hands and that's what I love about it, you control your own wins and losses."
Finally able to play pain-free, Sharapova also improved her overall fitness so that she could recover from a tough match and back it up the next day. Some criticise her serve and the number of double faults that creep into her game from time to time, but she is so aggressive with it that mistakes will flow when she is not quite on her game, and especially when conditions are trickier.
However, in Istanbul, with a roof over her head, there will be no wind to worry about and in a year when her losses have been few and far between, Sharapova would like nothing more than to end it on another real high. Don’t bet against her.