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Thursday, May 26, 2011

French Open: Sharapova Snaps Back

There were times today when Sharapova stood on court that I could not help but think back to when she was 17 years old and in the Wimbledon championship. She was an electric teenager with enormous shots and an attitude to match, but it wasn't Maria's game today which made me reminisce, but rather her opponent's. Sharapova faced a youngster who many dubbed a French version of the gangly Russian we watched stun Serena Williams six years ago, and at a set and two breaks down, it seemed Maria would be the second big name to go home today (following Clijsters). Tweets, blogs and articles were buzzing around the internet about how this young girl, Caroline Garcia, was on her way to victory—how she was the next big thing—that we were witnessing the birth of a new tennis legend...

But in an all too familiar fashion, Sharapova found a way.

It's true that Garcia's game was excellent and downright beautiful at times in her match today. Despite her small frame, she finds a way to pound the ball for winners, but it's her tactical skill that truly gave her the edge. She absorbed Sharapova's power and redirected it into corners, seeming the likely victor as she moved ahead 4-1 in the second set. She has a certain whip on the ball that generates superb spin and deadly angles. With that in her arsenal, Garcia was able to take Sharapova's shots very early, hitting down the line and crosscourt as she pleased. It was her match to win, but anyone who knows Sharapova knows that the match is not over until the final point is won.

And that's where Garcia dropped the ball. With a double-break advantage, Garcia had room for error, but when the next game began it looked as though she finally recognized the face on the other side of the court. She was on center stage at the French Open, playing against grand slam champion, Maria Sharapova. Reality set in and she hit the deck hard, literally. During one point at the end of the second set, Maria sent a backhand roaring cross-court and Garcia lost her footing and fell to the ground. Dismayed as she stood, Garcia finally looked her age, staring into her box with wide eyes, disappointed and understandably angry that she let her lead slip away.

Losing a lead to Sharapova is one problem, but allowing her to dictate play is a deadly mistake. Garcia began missing the shots she had been crushing for winners, double faults began to creep into her service game, and Sharapova found her stroke. In a stunning display, Maria won 11 consecutive games to win the final two sets 6-4 6-0, beaming with joy as she converted her first match point. It was a great showing by Garcia and the whole tennis world will be excited to see her in the future, but it's too early to call her a future world no. 1.

Why? The press loves a new facem but that doesn't mean we have substantial evidence of greatness soon to come. Let's look at Oudin, Rus (the Clijster's slayer) and Jovanovski. I really enjoy all three of these girls' fearless efforts, but we're still waiting for them to flourish. Oudin was the big, bad Russian-slayer of the 2009 US Open, but she hasn't done much since. Rus and Jovanovski have both received similar praise as rising stars, but it'll take a few more deep journeys into grand slams for us to really know if any of these players are "world's best" material, and the same goes for Caroline Garcia.

When thinking about Garcia's (or any youngster's) future, I think Maria said it best in her post-match interview today: "There will be a lot of wins and lot of losses. It’ll be a long road." Maria is living proof that  17-year-old can stun the tennis world and give us something to cheer about, but we haven't seen that for awhile and we surely didn't see that from Garcia today. Instead, we had a refreshing glimpse of Sharapova at her best. The mental toughness. The mind-boggling strength. The signature scream. 

Today it was Maria's day, and even though she has had a lot of wins in the past, she treats each one like it's a championship.

-Kedzie Teller, ITB Senior Editor


wale said...

Beautifully drafted and written....kudos τ̅☺ the blogger and as for sharapova i must admit i was on my kneels praying τ̅☺ God τ̅☺ spare her a shameful defeat wen she was down 4-1 in ∂ second set and God ansd my prayers and as for Garcia i like her already she just needs τ̅☺ be a lil mentally tough dats all she needs for da big stage......

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