Sharapova: Smack In The Middle
Published March 19, 2013 12:00
INDIAN WELLS, CA, USA - She has been an elite player on the WTA for about a decade now, but having broken through so young, she's not quite veteran age yet - where does Maria Sharapova, who is fresh off her first WTA title of the year at Indian Wells, feel she fits among the generations?
Sharapova won her first WTA titles in 2003 and has won at least one more every year since then, an 11-year run - only Martina Navratilova, Chris Evert and Steffi Graf have longer streaks. And that longevity also came through at the BNP Paribas Open over the last two weeks - she won the Premier-level title for the first time way back in 2006 and repeated that feat this year, seven years later.
"I don't exactly remember who was in the field then, but down the line you know there's going to be a new generation that comes up," Sharapova said of the seven year gap. "There are going to be players who you played at the beginning of your career that are retired and no longer playing, like the Belgian girls - Justine and Kim - I think they were both in the draw that year, if I'm not mistaken. And Lindsay.
"So of course that changes over the years, and you have a lot of younger players and the younger generation coming up as well. And I'm probably somewhere smack in the middle of it all."
A player changes over a seven year period - the Sharapova who won the title in 2006 is probably far different than the one who won it in 2013. But how does the woman herself feel about that?
"Seven years ago - it has been so long," Sharapova commented. "I don't think I have gray hairs yet, but as the years go by, I'm still very lucky that I'm here and that I'm still doing it and that I still love it and have the passion to do it. I feel like I'm a different player. I'm a much more experienced player. I've learned so much over the years. And it was nice to hold up that trophy again after so many years."
Sharapova reminisced even more when asked about her early development as a player.
"I went through different coaches through my junior days, but I would say the main one that really put my strokes and my game in place was Robert Lansdorp. He had the vision of just feeding out of the basket and his students being able to hit hundreds and hundreds of balls and have that feeling they can do it over and over again, no matter where they are on the court. Mentally that helped me so much because I always felt like I had good, fluid groundstrokes. The consistency I didn't feel when I was younger was always there - after a lesson with him I just always felt I could close my eyes and have the same rhythm on the court. That was a big key for me and very important in my development.
"But I also went to different specialists who would help me with other things and specific shots."
Sharapova's win at Indian Wells pushed her back to No.2 on the rankings, but with the seeds being set before those came out, she is the No.3 seed in Miami this fortnight after Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka. The Russian has never won Miami but is a four-time finalist, finishing runner-up to Kim Clijsters in 2005, Svetlana Kuznetsova in 2006, Azarenka in 2011 and Agnieszka Radwanska in 2012.