Tennis: Sharapova will take a power of stopping

Sharapova will take a power of stopping when she returns to the All England Club. Photo / Getty Images.
Sharapova will take a power of stopping when she returns to the All England Club. Photo / Getty Images.

If anyone is equipped to take command of women's tennis and capture back-to-back grand slam titles, it is newly-crowned French Open champion and world No.1 Maria Sharapova.

Unlike the men's game, in which all-conquering trio Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger have won a scarcely believable 28 of the past 29 majors since 2005, half a dozen different women have reigned at the past six grand slam events.

But now that she has Paris out of the way, Sharapova will take a power of stopping when she returns to the All England Club and her favoured grass courts seeking to add a second Wimbledon trophy to her collection.

Sharapova is eight years older, wiser and stronger than when the starry-eyed Russian claimed her maiden major at just 17 with a fairytale Wimbledon final triumph over Serena Williams in 2004.

Runner-up to Petra Kvitova last year before losing to Victoria Azarenka in the Australian Open final in January and then completing her career grand slam set with victory over Sara Errani this month at Roland Garros, Sharapova's revival from shoulder surgery in late 2008 has been nothing short of miraculous.

Even perhaps the sharpest mind in women's tennis can't quite believe it.

"Most people would have called it a day. She stayed with it," said nine-times Wimbledon champion Martina Navratilova after Sharapova's claycourt breakthrough in Paris.

"To overcome the mental aspects of the game - obviously she had issues with her serve after she came back with the bad toss and technique and (being) very predictable on the serve, double faults all over the place.

"She completely conquered it, and kudos to that. When your serve goes, it's so easy to lose the rest of the game.

"That's a much more difficult beast to get through than the rehab and the physical fitness.

"All respect to her for getting it done. I wouldn't have thought she was capable of doing that two, three years ago. I don't know if very many people did. She did. That's all that matters."

Sharapova, still only 25, is a warm favourite for the title, ahead of Kvitova and four-times champion Serena Williams.

Navratilova says that's rightfully so.

"She's played just amazing tennis," said the modern-day Wimbledon singles record holder.

"She's been dominating, winning 80 per cent of the games on her opponents' serve, which is ridiculous."

Kvitova reached the last four at Roland Garros on her least preferred surface, but Navratilova was "disappointed with her effort" against Sharapova in the semis and says the streaky Czech left-hander needs to tighten up her game.

"She gets away with it against players ranked lower. But against somebody like Maria, it's going to cost her - and it did," Navratilova said.

"She would play a few good games, but then she'd have a bad game on her serve and there is the set.

"She needs to clean up her game a little bit."

Williams will doubtless be stinging to hit the grass after suffering a numbing first-round French Open loss to Virginie Razzano after arriving in Paris as co-title favourite with Sharapova.

The 13-times grand slam champion hasn't played competitively in four weeks since but, with 60 wins at the All England Club, a lack of match practice has never adversely affected Williams in the past.

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