There was a huge shock today as Defending Champion Maria Sharapova was bounced out of Tokyo by Kimiko Date-Krumm on the eve of her 40th birthday. It has to be said that Maria was apparently visibly struggling with a bad cold all through the match. But still, she continued from where she left off in the US Open 4th round, hitting 11 double faults and losing a *3-2 40-0 lead en route to the defeat.
This loss effectively ends Mariaâ€™s hopes of reaching Doha and after Beijing, it will be interesting to see where she plays. Following her exit at the US Open she said she had 3 tournaments left to play (Tokyo, Beijing and Moscow), but of course she has also qualified for Bali. Playing Bali would probably be quite a shock to her system and a tough pill to swallow considering all of her old rivals will be participating in the Sony Ericsson Championships Doha. But it may also be the wake-up call she needs to start playing quality tennis again.
Regardless of what happens between now and the end of the year, 2011 is going to be an extremely important year for the three-time slam champion. There is already talk about whether or not she will ever win another slam and the possibility of her becoming a second-tier player for the rest of her career. I completely disagree with that idea, and in general I think that itâ€™s silly to write off someone who has achieved all she has achieved while she is still only 23. However, I do think that 2011 will be a very telling year for Maria Sharapova.
What is frustrating for all is that itâ€™s the same Maria Sharapova there; The same groundstrokes. The same gamestyle. The same service motion. And she has actually improved parts of her game, for example her volleys and finesse shots in general. However, she lacks confidence, her serve often falls apart, her play is far too central - lacking the wicked angles of old, and she is a step slower. If she can work on those areas and improve them, then she can become a force again. The thing is, she doesnâ€™t even need to play anywhere close to the magnificent level she exhibited before the surgery. She just needs to play well.
If I was in the Sharapova camp and had any sort of influence on her tennis, I would take her to the side and communicate three short and simple words to her that would probably make a world of difference to her career; Bring. Back. Yuri.