Posted by Barrie on Monday, 18 January 2010

What has happened to Maria Sharapova?

Another low point in the career of Maria Sharapova this morning saw her eliminated from the first round by Maria Kirilenko at the Australian Open.

The former World Number 1 and winner of this tournament just 2 years ago was out-of-form and couldn't even rely on her serve to get her out of trouble as she went down 6-7 6-3 4-6 to an opponent ranked 44 places below her. Her serve was part of the problem as she produced 11 double faults to her 9 aces. More alarmingly were her 66 errors to 45 winners.

In the past Maria Sharapova has got away with avoiding tournaments before big events, but it clearly wasn't the case this time. Her serve was unreliable, her forehand was erratic and her loud screams didn't phase her opponent. The consistency she used to produce has gone from her game. While Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin can seemingly roll out of bed and win matches, Sharapova cannot.

The surprise winner of Wimbledon in 2004, aged just 17. She was hard working and well-prepared back then. Powering her way through opponents. The US Open title followed 2 years later and then the Australian Open in 2008. Last year the 22 year old Russian lost to Gisela Dulko in the 2nd round at Wimbledon and Melanie Oudin in the 3rd round of the US Open. The latter aided by a host of unforced errors from Sharapova. Those results would have been unthinkable just a couple of years ago.

Maria Sharapova missed last year's Australian Open with that long shoulder lay off that took her a long time to recover from. Even making her way through to the quarter finals of last year's French Open, the shoulder seemed to be bothering her. While she denies it causing her any pain now, the service game and her game isn't near where it use to be. Not being the quickest player around the court, she needs to outpower her opponents and it's not happening as often anymore. The quality of opposition has raised in recent years and Sharapova doesn't rank among the top players now.

It was only last week that Maria Sharapova signed a record-breaking deal with Nike - $70,000,000 over 8 years – the largest ever endorsement deal for a female athlete. At least that means we should see Maria around for a long time to come. For one who has worked so hard in the past and showed determination after all the money she has earned, a lack of motivation can easily set in with a deal that will ensure she can live a luxurious lifestyle for the rest of her life. Off the field distractions and a glamour lifestyle outside of the sport haven't helped her. Not to mention limiting her practice.

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