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Maria Sharapova’s Tennis Legacy

The Russian’s playing style has become incredibly influential, but with an inimitable touch.

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There is one infallible way to ruin a debate, and that is to mention Hitler, i.e. to “play the Nazi card”. When the infamous “reductio ad Hitlerum” come into dialectic play, it spells doom for any argument, all but driving it towards implosion – and this is especially true if the debate is web-based.

Ever since Maria Sharapova received a ban from the WADA, something akin to what I’ve described has started to happen. In what way? Well, regardless of what I’ll be writing in the next few lines, someone is going to comment on the article by reminding us that Maria has been banned for substance abuse. At that point, defense attorneys and prosecutors will enter the arena, and every other aspect of the discussion will become an afterthought – we might call Sharapova’s predicament “reductio ad Meldonium”.

This is why I’d like to propose a deal to our readers: since we’ve had plenty of occasions to discuss Sharapova and doping, and since we’ll have many more in the future, can we just for once refrain from talking about it, and instead reflect on something else? This isn’t a way to do her a favour (I’m not a defence attorney myself), but rather an attempt to create a chance for reasoning without incurring into the usual jingle.

Another subject that I don’t want to discuss is her glam side, the side that’s been able to become such a household name off-court, transcending sporting achievements. Nor do I want to talk about her resumé – 5 Majors, and a Career Grand Slam. What I’d like to do is focussing on the type of tennis she played, and how she’s left her mark on the women’s game from 2004 onwards.

  1. High-intensity power tennis

Events such as the arrival of the Williams sisters on the main stage, Lindsay Davenport’s successes, and the twilight of Martina Hingis’ dominance, are all viewed as the essential tokens of the passage to a new tennis era – the advent of power tennis. At the turn of millennium, a new generation of female athletes reached the top, provided with a special gift for injecting pace to their shots, thanks to a superior innate power.

Davenport was born in 1976, four years before Venus, and five before Serena. Sharapova, despite succeeding at an obscenely young age (she won her first Slam at SW19 in 2004), was born in 1987, and thus ascended on the WTA scene a few years later. For this reason, she can’t be considered among the progenitors of the new age, but at the same time she introduced a few innovations that are worthy of a mention.

To explain what I mean, I’ll quote from an article I wrote a few years ago about a historic match, the 2005 Australian Open semifinal between her and Serena (Williams won with a 2-6 7-5 8-6 scoreline). Here it goes: “Serena is a player who still showcases the legacy of the classic game, a game in which the highest degree of aggression is expressed through the charging of the net. Serena did just that in several crucial moments of the match, enacting plays from the previous decades, with aggressive approaches followed by volleys or smashes. Disclaimer: it was unmistakably power tennis, but rallies were devised with the idea of a vertical transition towards the net.”

On the other hand, Sharapova was a thoroughly modern player. Generally, her game never encompassed the idea of verticality, but rather entailed never-ending pressure from the baseline, with supreme confidence in her ability to hit winners with her groundstrokes.

And while Williams has dominated the head-to-head tally against Sharapova, one might argue that history has reversed the tendency, with more and players embracing Masha’s style. Nowadays, it’s hard to believe that Serena herself once approached the net with hints of the classic style, and yet she did, at least until she “Sharapovised” her game through the years, focussing more and more on hitting winners from the baseline.

So, the first aspect that I’d like to highlight vis-à-vis Sharapova’s game is her nature as a pure power hitter from the baseline, wholly detached from the dogmas of the previous century.

Furthermore, there is another aspect that is entirely hers, and that is strictly linked to a baseline-aggresion, namely her constant search for the highest degree of intensity.

Such voltage was conveyed via a brand of aggression that didn’t know hesitation nor pauses, to the point that interlocutory shots were chopped down to a minimum, when not erased altogether.

Sharapova was hardly the first player to display such an intense attitude – the real forerunner in this regard is undoubtedly Monica Seles. However, the Russian might have been the first athlete to employ both of the aforementioned weapons (power and intensity) with such frequency.

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Emma Raducanu Confident Of Full Fitness Ahead Of Grass Swing

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Emma Raducanu - Cincinnati 2022 (foto Twitter @cincytennis)

Emma Raducanu has no regrets about her decision to skip the French Open and now believes she is in a ‘really fit place’ ahead of Wimbledon. 

The former US Open champion opted to end her clay season earlier than other players to focus on fitness and training with her coach. Raducanu stated earlier this year that her primary focus in 2024 is on her health after undergoing a series of wrist and ankle surgeries last year which sidelined her for months. 

Raducanu will return to action this week at the Nottingham Open, which is the event where she made her WTA main draw debut back in 2021. Despite her lack of match play in recent weeks, the Brit is feeling good and relishing her return to the grass.

“Body-wise, physical-wise, I feel really healthy,” she said on Monday.
“I’ve done amazing work with my trainer over the last few months, since surgery. I’m in a really fit place. I’m healthy and just looking forward to starting playing.”

Shedding more light on her health, Raducanu says she has full confidence in her wrists and believes they are in top condition. Making her feel more at ease when playing matches on the Tour. 

“I think my wrists are actually in a better position than they ever were. So there’s zero doubt or apprehension whether I’m hitting the ball or designing my schedule,” she explained.
“It’s more about being proactive and not wanting to put yourself in any unnecessary situations. I don’t need to rush and try to win the French Open, it wasn’t my goal this year.
“I had to prioritise where I wanted to target and it was just a good block for me to get some physical work done.”

Raducanu has played seven WTA events so far this season with her best run being to the quarter-finals of the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix in Stuttgart, where she was beaten by world No.1 Iga Swiatek. The 21-year-old is currently ranked 209th in the world. 

At the Nottingham Open, she will play her first match on Tuesday against Japanese qualifier Ena Shibahara. 

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Russian World No.78 Elina Avanesyan To Switch Nationalities

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Image via https://x.com/WTAMeridaOpen/

A week after losing her fourth round match at the French Open, a government minister has confirmed that Elina Avanesyan is in the process of changing the nationality of who she plays for. 

The 21-year-old is switching her aligence from Russia to Armenia, according to Armenia’s deputy Minister of International Affairs and communication. Karen Giloyan has told the news agency Armenpress that Avanesyan will soon be representing his country. However, the tennis player has yet to comment on the matter.  Avanesyan was born in Russia but has Armenian parents.

“Elina Avanesyan will compete under the Armenian flag, but there is nothing official yet. We are waiting for her to get the citizenship of the Republic of Armenia so that everything will be official,” Giloyan told Armenpress.

Such a development would be a massive coup for the Armenian tennis federation which currently doesn’t have a player ranked inside the top 500 on either the men’s or women’s Tour. The country has a population of less than 3M. Perhaps their best-known player is Sargis Sargsian who reached the top 40 back in 2004. Others on the Tour also have Armenian heritage but don’t represent the country such as Karen Khachanov.  

Avanesyan is currently ranked 78th in the world, which is 18 places below her career high. This season, she has scored high-profile wins over Maria Sakkari at the Australian Open, Ons Jabeur in Charleston and Qinwen Zhang at the French Open. 

She has yet to play in the final of a WTA tournament.

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Iga Looks To Be In A league All to Herself At Paris

Iga Swiatek claimed her fourth Roland Garros title in Paris.

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(@Eurosport - Twitter)

Just call her Iga. No other identification is needed.

As the years go by, Iga’s notoriety is sure to grow.

She’s probably already earned a spot in tennis’ Hall of Fame.

Yes, Iga Swiatek is a name to remember. A hero in her native Poland, a superstar in the world of sports.

IGA WAS JUST TOO GOOD

Iga just added to her stardom Saturday with an impressive 6-2, 6-1 victory over little-known Italian Jasmine Paolini to win her third straight French Open title. This was Paolini’s chance to make a name for herself, but she didn’t have the game to make it happen.

Iga was just too good. She made it look too easy.

Paolini could hit some great ground strokes, but when she looked up a bigger shot was on its way back. Iga doesn’t look like a power hitter, but she is.

WINNING 10 CONSECUTIVE GAMES

The 23-year-old Polish Wonder finished the first set winning five straight games, then started the second set winning five more games in succession. The 28-year-old Paolini didn’t seem to have a clue on how to upend Swiatek.

It took just 78 minutes for Iga to win her fifth Grand Slam title.

She’s a lot like her French Open hero, Rafa Nadal.

She takes every match seriously.

SWIATEK OWNS THE RED CLAY

No wonder Iga owns a 35-2 record at Roland Garos. Or that she has won 21 straight matches. Or that she owns a 5-0 record in Grand Slam finals.

She only dominated opponents, except for Naomi Osaka in the second round. Swiatek escaped a match point in that one and didn’t look back.

Iga’s game should be just as superb on the green grass of upcoming Wimbledon.

James Beck was the 2003 winner of the USTA National Media Award  for print media. A 1995 MBA graduate of The Citadel, he can be reached at Jamesbecktennis@gmail.com.

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