Friday 29 November 2013
2014 will mark the 10th anniversary of Maria Sharapova's landmark Wimbledon win as a 17-year-old. With a new coach in her corner, she has big ambitions for the coming season. Wimbledon.com discusses...
Tennis years are like dog years, Boris Becker once said; a decade is an age for those out there on the road and on the lawns. Next summer it will be 10 years since Maria Sharapova won The Championships – on that sun-bleached afternoon on Centre Court in the summer of 2004, she launched herself into the tennis stratosphere.
But next year also brings up another big landmark for Sharapova, and thinking about this one won't transport her to Happy Land; it was back in 2004, with victories in the Wimbledon final and then at the season-ending championships, that the Siberian last defeated Serena Williams. That's 10 years without beating one of your greatest rivals. For a player as competitive as Sharapova, that 13-match losing streak against Williams is going to make her about as sour as a bag of Sugarpova. For Sharapova, what could be sweeter next summer than to defeat Williams in the Wimbledon final, to be reunited with the Venus Rosewater Dish and the euphoria of getting the better of the American? Indeed, if that were to happen, that would more than justify Sharapova's hiring of her new Dutch coach, Sven Groeneveld, which has been one of the most interesting developments of the off-season so far.
Whatever happens with Groeneveld and Sharapova in 2014 and possibly beyond, you can now say with something approaching absolute certainty that he will have greater impact on her career than Jimmy Connors did. The Connors Experiment lasted just one tournament, or one match, earlier this year, with Sharapova splitting with Jimbo after her defeat to Sloane Stephens in Cincinnati (that was also the only match that she has played since a second-round defeat at this season's Championships to a Portuguese qualifier, Michelle Larcher de Brito, as she missed the US Open and the autumn swing because of a shoulder injury). Can Groeneveld - who has previously coached Monica Seles, Mary Pierce and Ana Ivanovic to Grand Slam titles - help Sharapova to win a second Wimbledon title, some 10 years after her first?
"We've been working together since I got back on the court, and after seeing him on the opposing side for so many years, I'm excited to have him become a part of my team,” Sharapova has said of her collaboration with Groeneveld, who had been a consultant with the Adidas Player Development programme. “It has been a very seamless transition, and I have had a lot of fun with the hard work we have put in so far."
Perhaps the Groeneveld era will start with Sharapova beating Williams during the first week of 2014, as both are due to open the season in Brisbane. But the stage that matters most to both Sharapova and Williams is Wimbledon’s Centre Court. Since that 2004 final, there have been two further meetings at the All England Club, a fourth-round match at the 2010 Championships, and then the most lop-sided of encounters in the gold-medal match at the 2012 Olympics, when Sharapova won just one game. Of course it’s possible that Sharapova could have great success next season, at the All England Club or elsewhere on the tennis map, without beating Williams. But, given the way that Williams played for much of the 2013 season, it’s likely that Sharapova is going to have to find a way past the Californian.
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