Sunday, September 2, 2007

Sharapova vultures need to pick someone else's bones

I knew it would happen the moment Maria Sharavpova lost her U.S. Open third round match against Agnieszka Radwanska--"Sharapova is finished," "Sharapova is overrated," "Sharapova will never win another Slam."

This type of bashing, though de rigeur in a culture that loves to build people up, then knock them down--is simply not fair. Though Sharapova lost largely because she fell apart mentally, it is instructive to take a look at why she did so. Sharapova has spent a terrible year nursing a serious shoulder injury that caused her to lose one of her most effective weapons--her serve. Both her first and second serves have been two of the best on the tour for a while, and with her shoulder vulnerable, she has struggled to regain them. When a person struggles with something, especially something that was once second nature, her confidence plummets.

Sharapova finally won a tournament a few weeks ago in San Diego, but then she had to withdraw from her semifinal in Los Angeles, because of a lower leg strain. In other words, she came into the U.S. Open with relatively little match play, a tweaky shoulder, a new service motion, and recent recovery from a new injury.

The same people who like to complain that there is "no depth" in women's tennis are now complaining because the U.S. Open defending champion was upset by a phenom. These fans, however, were relatively silent when Marion Bartoli demolished Justine Henin in the Wimbledon semifinals. The difference? Sharapova is a big media star, and Henin isn't. That's because our culture likes to promote long-legged blondes whose faces have not even fully formed, and then attack them when they do not live up to their superstar status.

Yes, Sharapova needs to do whatever it takes to regain her confidence. But is she finished? Hardly. In fact, anyone who was really watching her at the U.S. Open noticed that she was trying new techniques--working to make her game better.

Sharapova is not a quitter. In the words of another female superstar: "Nobody's perfect--what did you expect?"

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