I know the season has only just started and I don’t want to be the one who brings down the mood but ten years after her first and only win in Australia you’d say with no Serena and no news on Vika that Sharapova would stand a chance of picking up her first title in 10 years in Melbourne but I don’t see it happening.
Since Maria came back onto the tour I have felt that players have taken their matches against her like a free hit and they have every right to, there doesn’t seem to be that fear when she’s on court and she has to try and build it up again to inject that fear match by match.
Part of the issue for Maria is she’s stepping in too much and last year hit her worst % of 1st serve return points won under 40% and it’s been the same so far this week in Shenzhen and matches she should be cruising in she hasn’t.
If you compare where she was standing in 2015 compared to this year she has stepped in a little and there could be a few reasons for this. It could be a lack of trust in her movement further behind the baseline compared to what it used to be but also a factor in stepping forward could be trying too hard as we can see below.
Image Credit – WTA
It is too easy to say I am going to be aggressive from the baseline. You can be aggressive behind the baseline and inside but it’s about timing as well and that is lacking with Maria stepping in as she does possess excellent ground strokes but isn’t putting them to full use since her comeback on the tour. I’d say she is over-thinking and not trusting her game to be stepping forward but not playing with conviction and to be returning serve inside the baseline which she has been doing of late but not getting rewards isn’t helping her gain any momentum and taking a step back might just give her more control in matches and strike fear into opponents.
It’s been 10 years since Maria picked up her first and only title in Melbourne and I think the wait will go on. Big wins will be needed and it’s something she hasn’t had with just two meetings against a top 10 opponent last year both of those against Simona Halep winning one but losing the other.