Stronger Sharapova cruises to Rome title

Published May. 15, 2011 1:00 a.m. EDT

There have been times over the past few years when Maria Sharapova has enjoyed getting away from tennis and putting on a different face — literally.

The shoes, the dresses, the makeup, the hair have all been part of a different world, one that has had people suggesting she is not fully focused on her day job.

But no one can accuse her of not keeping her eye on the ball in Rome this week.

On Sunday, in a final delayed three hours because of rain, Sharapova took a whole new step forward in her stop-go career when she demolished Samantha Stosur 6-2, 6-4 to win the Rome title for the first time with commanding ease. The former world No. 1 will move up to No. 7 in the WTA rankings after this win. For the first time since she had surgery on her shoulder, the US-based Russian is looking capable of winning something really big again.


“I’m not going to make predictions about Roland Garros," Sharapova said, when asked about her chances at the French Open, which starts this coming Sunday. “That’s the journalists job. I am just happy to be the champion here and to have beaten players who have put in good results on clay. I’m feeling better and better on this surface, mainly, I think, because I’m stronger.”

It is easy to forget that Sharapova is still only 24. She began early, winning Wimbledon at 17 and then discovered that a developing young body could not stand the increasingly onerous physical demands of the tour.

Now, after many painful hours and days on the practice court and in the gym — most recently under the supervision of her new coach, Thomas Hogstedt — Sharapova has turned herself into a contender again. As a result, she will arrive in Paris with something of the old aura restored, and that will only make her a bigger threat.

There has been a new aggression about Sharapova’s game in the past few days that has enabled her to crush such excellent clay-court players as Caroline Wozniacki and Stosur, who was last year’s runner-up at Roland Garros. In the final Sunday, Sharapova was helped by the fact that, remarkably, she had beaten Stosur seven times out of seven.

Never, however, on clay.

“I feel I am on a new journey,” Sharapova said after improving to 8-0 vs. Stosur. “I treat each match and each opponent with respect because the game has changed during the time I was away. I was ready from the first point against Sam. I stepped in and tried to take away her time — create pace and be aggressive.”

The tactics worked, and the Australian was on the back foot throughout.

So Sharapova will continue to concentrate on the day job, although she did admit that she had found it fun to venture into a different world.

“I love fashion, and I love trying new things,” she said. “And it’s fun to play a different role for a few hours. Then you go back home, take off the makeup and it’s back to reality, sitting there in your pajamas, watching TV."

If she goes on like this, the tennis world will be watching more of Sharapova on TV — and women’s tennis will be grateful for it.


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