US Open Contender: Maria Sharapova
Published August 20, 2013 12:00
Titles Won (2): Indian Wells, Stuttgart
Grand Slam Performances: Australian Open (semifinals), French Open (runner-up), Wimbledon (second round)
Win/Loss Record: 37-7
Record Against Top 10: 7-5
US Open History: Champion (2006), Semifinalist (2012, 2005), Fourth Round (2010), Third Round (2011, 2009, 2007, 2004), Second Round (2003)
Early exits, new coaches and purported name changes, Maria Sharapova's summer has been nothing if not eventful.
For a player that has been the epitome of consistency over the past few years, Sharapova enters the year's final major, the US Open, with an air of uncertainty hanging over her.
After slipping out of Wimbledon in the first week, a hip injury forced the Russian to sit out the first half of the US hardcourt season, and on her return she ran into an on-song Sloane Stephens in Cincinnati. This setback led to a parting of the ways with new coach Jimmy Connors, as Sharapova headed back to Florida to regroup.
"I haven't played much ahead of the Open, so it's going to be tough and I know it's going to be challenging," Sharapova said. "Unfortunately, my time in Cincinnati was short so I have to find a way to practice hard and I've been in Florida training and getting ready for New York. It's the last Grand Slam so I definitely need to prepare well for that."
For such an accomplished hardcourt performer, Sharapova's recent showings in New York are mixed; since lifting the title in 2006, she has made it beyond the last 16 on just one occasion - a semifinal defeat to Victoria Azarenka 12 months ago.
Despite her recent struggles, the 26-year-old realizes that a major overhaul of her game is not necessary. Indeed, after Serena Williams, Sharapova can lay claim to being 2013's outstanding performer - prior to Wimbledon she had reached the semifinals or better at every tournament, going on to lift the title in Indian Wells and Stuttgart.
"At this stage of my career, I just want to improve on the game that I have," Sharapova said after her loss to Stephens. "At the level that I play at and the opponents that I compete against, it's always the little percentages that count and I'm always looking to improve by a little bit.
"It's not about changing something drastically, it's just about improving what you're good at and what makes you a champion and keep going and moving forward."