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With the launch of the new WTA season just days away, excitement is building around Sharapova’s return to competition. Tina McCarthy discusses the big question surrounding her Serenaphobia.

It is almost a decade since Sharapova recorded a win against Serena. The head-to-head is drastically one-sided: 14-2. Serena is laughing.

Having achieved the rare feat of a career Grand Slam, for all her titles and prizes, it is clear that Sharapova is still highly motivated to compete at the highest level. Even her peculiar one-match stint with Jimmy Connors as coach before the US Open in September is proof enough that she is aware that something has to change in order to stand a chance against the ever-increasingly dominant Serena.

Sharapova missed the US Open and the rest of the 2013 season with a shoulder injury. In November, she hired the highly experienced and respected Sven Groeneveld as her new coach. The Dutchman can take credit for guiding the likes of Seles, Pierce and Ivanovic to Grand Slam glory. Sharapova would dearly love that pattern to continue.
It’s no secret that Serena continues to punish Sharapova for beating her in the 2004 Wimbledon final. To that date, it was probably the bitterest defeat for Serena in her career and she will not allow herself to forget. The beatings are becoming more and more humiliating – the 2012 Olympic gold medal match is a clear case in point – with Serena authoritatively triumphing 6-0, 6-1.

What can Sharapova do amidst the Serena onslaught?

Points to improve

The serve – Sharapova has changed her service technique over the years and struggles to find consistency on her first serve in particular. This isn’t much of a problem for her, other than against Serena and Azarenka, because her groundstrokes compensate. Given her relatively solid technique and variation on serve, it will be interesting to note an improvement in consistency.

The unforced errors – a comedy of errors, in fact – she simply cannot afford to be sloppy. To be fair, against Serena, it is difficult to gauge a forced from an unforced error. Nevertheless, even though her groundstrokes are powerful and impressive, she is guilty of committing far too many errors against Serena.

The mentality – Sharapova is a fiercely intense competitor, but does she really believe that she can beat Serena? Or moreover, is it really a question of believing that Serena would let it happen? And we all know the answer to that.

The net, the whole net and nothing but the net – Sharapova has long laughed off suggestions that she should try to come to the net more or serve-and-volley on occasion. Laugh away, Masha, but the truth is she will not beat Serena from the baseline. Serena is faster, more powerful and most importantly nowadays, more consistent with more variation in her range of shots. Sharapova has improved her movement immeasurably, so let’s see if Groeneveld has managed to convince her of a giant leap forward to the net.

The WTA event in Brisbane, which kicks off on December 29, holds the answers to Sharapova’s Serenaphobia. Even if the two do not meet, critics will be watchful of any positive changes in her game in the run-up to the Australian Open.

Pundit Arena, Tina McCarthy.

Featured Image By Haruneskar (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons.

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