April 14th, 2011
10:13 AM ET

Is Sharapova back as a real contender?

Former women's No. 1 Maria Sharapova is back in the top-10 for the first time in more than two years. (Getty Images)
Former women's No. 1 Maria Sharapova is back in the top-10 for the first time in more than two years. (Getty Images)

Maria Sharapova’s driving forehand doesn’t really fill me with wonder and excitement, but I am full of admiration for her drive to succeed.

She burst onto the tennis scene as a 17-year-old in 2004, beating two-time defending champion Serena Williams in the Wimbledon final, but having reached the top of the rankings herself, her career went into decline from late 2008 after a long absence due to injury.

With her looks, physique, and bulging bank balance, the Russian could have easily retired with her three major titles in hand, safe in the knowledge that her name is imprinted in the record books and her face likely to adorn the cover of glossy magazines for years to come.

But instead of taking the easy option, she has chosen to fight through her physical problems and continue the grind on tour, with success no longer guaranteed. Ahead of her 24th birthday this month, Florida-based Sharapova has returned to the top-10 of the women's game for the first time in more than two years after reaching the semifinals at Indian Wells and the final in Miami.

A long-term shoulder injury has clearly taken its toll, especially on her much-weakened serve, but the thought of calling it a day doesn’t seem to have entered her mind, even despite her impending wedding to NBA star Sasha Vujacic.

Her quest to extend her career in the hope of claiming more grand slam titles is the driving factor, and her will to succeed makes anything possible.

When she was starting out, Maria was often compared to fellow Russian blonde bombshell Anna Kournikova. She always maintained that her tennis was more important than her looks. At the time, and with endorsements piling in, many of us were skeptical. Would she be able to focus on the game with so much off-court attention?

She was, proving to us all that she possessed much more than just a pretty face. In a world where attractive women seem to have an immediate edge, regardless of ability, Maria is a shining light – a breath of fresh air.

Of course, she has garnered more sponsors than most on the WTA Tour, but prize money and titles aren’t based on looks, and she’s won plenty of those too – 22 tournament victories and well over $10 million in on-court earnings.

Being a professional athlete in any sport requires a life-time of focus – a dedication most of us will never understand. To be at the top, you must eat, breathe and sleep your job. It’s incredibly hard. I tried it and failed, so I have the utmost respect for those who do succeed.

Sharapova has been at the top, suffered a shattering comedown, and is now slowly working her way back up.

No-one is forcing her to do it, she could retire comfortably and look back on a successful career, but instead she chooses to put in the hours and suffer a few painful defeats along the way, in order to fulfill her ambition and prove that looks can only take you so far – it’s heart, drive and talent which can lead to major success.

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Filed under:  Tennis
soundoff (20 Responses)
  1. GB

    Nahhh. She is too busy posing for the camera to have enough time to prepare well for top flight tournaments.

    April 14, 2011 at 11:18 am | Reply
  2. Nehmé, Jean-Michel

    Your kind objective article about Maria Sharapova is very much appreciated.
    In my judgement, Maria is just perfect. I wish her health,wealth & lots
    of success for many , many years to come. Such a Tennis-Courts´ Queen the Tennis-world would always appreciate.

    Greetings,
    JMN

    April 14, 2011 at 2:24 pm | Reply
  3. Juris Ulmanis

    Maria is a winner, and it is a pleasure to debate with students her wonderful story and marketing successes in International Marketing class.

    April 14, 2011 at 3:00 pm | Reply
  4. Sachiko

    One sport irony is that glorious achievements cost physically which would force the athlete to decline. Though I don't see Sharapova regaining no.1 spot without strong service which was pivotal in her prime, some moments of brilliance burst could happen, I love to see that bring her another gland slam title. I fully respect the way she had spent what a tough childhood moving from Russia to US and made incredible success. Sharapova is a real fighter, making tremendous efforts both before and after shoulder injury, totally different from Kournikova. WTA needs such a marvelous woman, she should never be counted out. Good luck Maria!

    April 14, 2011 at 4:23 pm | Reply
  5. Tyron Harris

    While i would not call myself a Sharapova fan, I truly commend her fight and determination to be a top tennis player again. Its funny because i watch her matches and I don't look at her game as a thing of beauty. She doesn't have Serena's serve or Kim or Venus's power and athleticism, or Justine's all-court game, but she has true grit. I have to respect that . In a time when other players on the WTA retire when they can't play at the top, Maria is slowly pushing her way back up to the top. She certainly makes it more interesting and its nice to see that drive.. I do believe that next to Serena, she is the strongest player mentally in the WTA. Maybe her counterparts could take a lesson from her so they too could rise to the top.

    April 14, 2011 at 7:43 pm | Reply
  6. Wanrahbok

    I hope Sharapova all the very best...:-)

    April 14, 2011 at 8:32 pm | Reply
  7. Donald Maduro

    It is a matter of character. I don't remember if it was Mr. Pancho Segura or Mr. Pancho Gonzalez, who said that you have to be like a boxer. You don't get in the ring to loose. It is the same thing with tennis. On the court it is the strong character which counts. Take a look at Mr. Rafa Nadal and Mr. Nole Djokovich. Maria will come back and succeed where others have failed. Good luck Maria.

    April 14, 2011 at 10:53 pm | Reply
  8. Fernando Caixeta

    I can totally see her going back to no.1. Really why not, the only one that could stop her was Justine Henin and she retired again. Now, Wozniacki? Come on. I can't see her winning a grand slam at all!
    The contenders are Clijters and Sharaphova for the top rank.

    April 15, 2011 at 1:29 am | Reply
  9. RuCaJaMa

    Indeed, Maria is a remarkable athlete. She has remained serious with her game and continues to be competitive even if the results are mixed. She remains a fighter despite the physical injuries that have affected her game. There is no indication that she is giving up and that is admirable. I believe that her efforts and determination will bring her success eventually. Go go Maria!

    April 15, 2011 at 4:40 am | Reply
  10. Don Heath

    Nice article. I don't know if Sharapova can compete at the highest level any more but she certainly deserves a lot of respect for trying the way she is. As always, good work by Candy Reid.

    April 15, 2011 at 5:25 am | Reply
  11. lk

    I don't see her being number one again but definitely in the top 5 because unlike her peers she has experience way beyond her age in her corner.

    April 15, 2011 at 1:25 pm | Reply
  12. Eric

    Good luck to her,as you say,she is very brave -but also she is still young.

    April 15, 2011 at 10:47 pm | Reply
  13. jorgen friis

    if skills, determination and focus are prerequisites for her ongoing success in regaining the top spot then the downside is her health.
    This is an issue everyone has to contend with some more successfully than others. If she can overcome injuries there is northing that says she cant be a #1. Looks alone isnt enough, look
    at say Anna Kournikova who made zillions but most off the court
    on account of a pretty face. Maria is miles ahead of Anna K in both
    looks, poise and skills. She'll make it back. She is simply too stuibborn NOT to succeed. Good luck to her – wishing her all the best. She deserves it

    April 16, 2011 at 3:58 am | Reply
  14. Margaret Rayner

    I am pleased for Sharapova that she has managed to come back to the top ten after all her problems, but I must admit when she and Azaranka are playing together I cannot stand the noise, so I turn the tv off. What a shame – I do think they should be gagged it isn't necessary.

    April 16, 2011 at 10:36 am | Reply
  15. David Angel

    She'll win another slam, watch and see. She has too much determination not to.

    April 16, 2011 at 12:20 pm | Reply
  16. Sweet4rush

    Amazing article! inspiring!

    April 17, 2011 at 10:31 am | Reply
  17. K Effio

    It' s incredible to see how people are driven by that inner energy to succeed in what is a passion to them. You don't have to be the best player of the world but surely you'll be compensated for your will to be the best you can, as M Sharapova has demonstrated to be.

    April 19, 2011 at 2:58 pm | Reply
  18. Dorpon

    Yes. I think she has come here to make it hers. There is no other options rather than grabbing this opportunity.

    April 19, 2011 at 4:08 pm | Reply
  19. Blevins

    Great story, Candy! Do you follow tennis fulltime as I do not recognize your name? Thanks!

    May 9, 2011 at 1:37 am | Reply
  20. Wanrahbok

    I'm a great fan of Maria Sharapova...I wish her the very best for her carrier..hope she will win more tournament from now..

    May 26, 2011 at 12:02 pm | Reply

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