The Russian marked the completion of her long road back from shoulder surgery in 2012, completing her Grand Slam set with victory at Roland Garros, briefly recapturing the No.1 ranking and winning a total of three titles from an impressive eight finals.
Strengths: Sharapova’s backcourt power is undeniable – the Russian’s explosive groundstrokes see her frequently rack up more winners than her opponents. What’s more, she has the mental fortitude and concentration to be able to continually hit for the lines, and make her shots. Her serve,sent down from atop her statuesque 188cm-tall frame, is a major weapon, and her ability to grit, grind and will herself to victory, even when not playing her best, makes her one of the game’s most formidable competitors.
Weaknesses: Though her height brings her plenty o fadvantages, movement is not one of them. The Russian works tirelessly in the gym and has commendable footwork, but can look ungainly when pushed and stretched around the court. This is especially the case when she’s yanked forward into the net off a short ball and forced to play a volley – she looks completely at sea. And when Sharapova’s big bombs are missing their mark, there’s no real Plan B.
Opportunities: Few players are more motivated by losses, and in 2012 Sharapova had her fair share of disappointing ones. In addition to straight-set defeats in big finals at Indian Wells, Miami, the Olympics and WTA Championships, there was her shocker against Victoria Azarenka at Melbourne Park, handing her bitter rival her first major crown. The Russian would love nothing more to exact revenge in 2013, and having captured the Australian Open herself in 2008, has proven she has what it takes to win the year’s first major.
Threats: Sharapova did a good job beating who she was expected to beat in 2012. Yet when she came up against fellow big guns Azarenka and Serena Williams – who together with Sharapova scooped the four major prizes last season – she repeatedly fell short, going a collective 2-7 against her fellow top-three rivals. She’ll need to reverse this head-to-head record ASAP if she hopes to contend for the title in Melbourne.
Mary Joe Fernandez, former world No. 4 and tennis analyst:
“I thought Maria played really well at the end of last year … After losing to Vika again and again, she learned from those matches. She turned the tables on Azarenka at the Year-End Championships. Now I think that Maria feels that she can play Vika anytime. In that year-end final, she played her best against Serena, which has always been a bad match up for her. When she won the Australian Open in 2008 she didn’t drop a set. I expect we’ll see that from from her again this year.”