That’s no longer necessary after the Russian star and 2004 Wimbledon champion was stunned in a second-round encounter with one of her unheralded countrywoman on tour -- 20-year-old Alla Kudryavtseva.
My trio of favorites to win here – Sharapova, Venus and Serena – is now a duo. And with the seventh-seeded Venus and the sixth-seeded Serena in different halves of the draw, an All-Williams final could be the highlight of this fortnight, and the third such meeting in a Wimbledon final – at least on the ladies’ side.
It went really wrong for Sharapova and there’s no mystery as to why. Her serve was the culprit. The serve is the most essential element to win on grass and the problems Sharapova had with her serve were great enough for her to shockingly fall to Kudryavtseva, who is ranked No. 154.
Sharapova double faulted eight times and that’s just unacceptable for a player of her talent. A perfect example of a weapon that wouldn’t work was her serving three double faults to lose a game and go down 4-2 in the first set.
Her troubles against Kudryavtseva were reminiscent of last year when she would struggle with her serve and then a lack of confidence would start to seep into the rest of her game.
It’s particularly interesting that except for this year’s Australian Open which she won, Sharapova has not even reached the quarterfinals in four of her last five majors. And it’s important to point out that her big weapon in Australia was her serve, which was top-notch Down Under.
This year began really well for Sharapova as she won three titles -- the Australian Open and Doha on hard courts and then the first clay success of her career at Amelia Island. She also reached the semifinals at Indian Wells and Rome so there have been significant periods when she’s been playing well.
But sometimes her serve really lets her down. What I believe is the problem with it when it does go south is that’s when Sharapova is not rotating her body as she should when serving. She starts serving on the side but instead of moving her body forward so that her navel is facing the net, she remains in a sideway stance.
Sharapova worked on her serve between the French Open and Wimbledon with Phil Dent when she was home in California. Dent is someone she has consulted with periodically in regards to her serve ever since she was 15-or-16 years old. The fact that she went over to see Dent during the time between the French Open and Wimbledon signifies to me that she knows she is having a problem with her serve. She’s trying to fix it but obviously it isn’t fixed yet.
And as we all have seen before with Sharapova if her serve goes, it drains her confidence and starts affecting other shots in her arsenal, most notably her forehand, which she starts pulling up on.
While Sharapova served her way out of the All-England Club, Kudryavtseva deserves credit for playing the match of her young life against her fellow Russian. In recent weeks Kudryavtseva lost in the first round of Eastbourne and Birmingham and she also lost in the first round at the Australian Open and French Open so her results of late have been far from stellar.
Kudryavtseva was very strong from the baseline and really challenged Sharapova repeatedly as the one-hour, 24- minute match unfolded. Kudryavtseva made Sharapova move and kept her off balance by driving the ball hard, deep and to different parts of the court. In comparison Sharapova was off, she made 22 unforced errors to 13 winners.
The nation grieved for those hurt, killed and affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. After one of the suspects was caught on Friday — following a day-long lockdown and manhunt — sports returned to Boston over the weekend.
Another point worth noting surrounding the early demise on the lawns of Sharapova is that this year she changed her routine in her approach to Wimbledon. In previous years she’s always played one of the grass warm-up tournaments before Wimbledon. In 2004 and 2005 and last year she won Birmingham.
This year Sharapova felt she had to go home to mentally recharge because she had been in Europe for a long stretch. Maybe she’s the type of person who needs that groove, needs to get her feet wet on the grass before playing at Wimbledon.
The Williams sisters never play a tune-up tournament and it seems to work for them. For Sharapova maybe this was an experiment to see how it works for her not playing a tune-up event. I’m guessing after her second-round loss she’ll feel this change in routine didn’t work for her and she needs to have grass court matches in advance of playing Wimbledon.
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