Sharapova climaxes her defining year


Maria Sharapova has shown some of the same guts which helped rescue her career against the odds to earn this week’s chance of winning the WTA Championships title again after a long interval.
Sharapova defied doctors who said her injured shoulder would prevent her ever playing at the same level again, and defied medical probability when she competed in the last year’s season-end tournament despite a badly twisted ankle.
Forced to retire after only two matches here then, Sharapova has become determined to atone this time, which is why she also regards her bid for the showdown title over the next few days as a very important bonus.
“Everything I played after Tokyo (late September) this year I feel is a bonus for me since I was injured in this part of the season last year,” she says. “I’ve made sure I’ve had a couple of weeks to get ready for the championships.” Sharapova would love to capture the WTA Championship title again, not only because she last won it in her memorable breakthrough year, 2004, when she won Wimbledon at the age of only 17.
Recapturing it might also keep alive her outside chances of denying Victoria Azarenka the 2012 year-end world number one spot. It would certainly enhance her reputation as the tour’s bonniest fighter.
After discovering that she had been competing with a rotator cuff injury four fully four months in 2008, Sharapova reluctantly had a shoulder operation which kept her from competing for seven months, and left her service action diminished.
“If you look at players who have operations on their shoulders, they are usually never the same again,” she briefly admitted then – but this year she proved everyone, including medics, pundits, and even herself, quite wrong.
She won her first Grand Slam title since that operation, completed a career Grand Slam by capturing the French Open, to add to the 2004 Wimbledon, the 2006 US Open, and the 2008 Australian Open, and for a while regained the world number one ranking as well. No wonder her acute survival instincts are driving her so hard to do well this week. “I was trying to recover (here) last year and probably came back a little bit too soon,” she acknowledged.
“But obviously it’s special to make it to the last eight (the WTA Championships’ format) and so I wanted to give ti a chance and give it a go. It’s the last push of the year and I’m looking forward to it.” Sharapova comfortably won her opening match yesterday, a repeat of the French Open final in June against Sara Errani of Italy, by 6-3, 6-2, and looks good to qualify from the white group and to reach Saturday’s semi-finals.
If she were to regain this title after an eight-year interval she could still grab the year-end top spot if Azarenka – who has Serena Williams in her group – were to win only one of the three round robin encounters.
Even Sharapova can’t do that, a title tilt or a good showing would be an appropriate end to a defining year for one of the highest profile players in the history of the game.