Saturday, May 21, 2011

Sharapova develops feet of clay

Ave Maria
While the men's tournament was the same old same old (though how we are all coming to enjoy these Nadal-Djokovic battles), the WTA half of the combined event certainly threw up surprises, not least in the shape of the victor. It is almost clich├ęd to quote Maria Sharapova's description of herself as a "cow on ice" when it comes to clay, but she put any past travails on red dirt behind her with an accomplished display, cruising through the tournament with barely a hiccup and demolishing clay-courter and last year's French Open finalist Sam Stosur in a straight-sets final.

Sharapova feasted on Stosur's kick serve which reared up at a perfect height for the 6'2" Siberian to swing through, and though her movement was still ponderous at times, she compensated for that much in the way that fellow Bollettieri Academy alumnus Andre Agassi did on clay - by hitting with power and precision.

There has never been a better time for the world no.8 to mount a serious challenge at the French, with Kim Clijsters struggling to recover from an ankle injury in time for Roland Garros, the absence of the Williams sisters and the disappearance of the other Russian clay-courters off the radar (Elena Dementieva having retired, Dinara Safina likely to follow her and 2009 winner Svetlana Kuznetsova unable to return to former glories). Sharapova has three majors to her name, and victory in Paris in June would complete her career Grand Slam.

Top seed no.1 Caroline Wozniacki was taken apart by Sharapova in the semis, whose only struggles came against world no.4 Victoria Azarenka in a quarter-final tie that was truncated after the Belarusian hyper-extended her elbow after winning the first set. No.2 seed and defending French Open champion Francesca Schiavone meanwhile disappointed the Rome crowd, going down in straight sets to Stosur. A good showing at the Foro Italico, surrounded by home fans and the pressure that comes with increased expectations, would have gone a long way to dispelling the myth that the whirlwind from Milan is a one-Slam wonder. Instead, she is going to have to do it at Roland Garros…

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