FLUSHING MEADOWS – Maria Sharapova is back to being the front on star of tennis. She is crushing her opponents, while acting like the starlet we all know and love.
After she dispatched Mallory Burdette today – in a match where she thought she would be booed – the 25 year-old started to reflect on her career with the up and comers, like Laura Robson and Sloane Stephens making names for themselves, while Kim Clijsters is retiring to motherhood.
“Well, I’ll tell you, when I was 18 or 19, if someone told me I was going to be playing at 25, which was seven years from then, I’d be like, Stop, this is ridiculous. You’re crazy,” she said. “But here I am at 25 years old. Although I didn’t play for nine, ten months in my career, I’m 25, and I feel like I have so many more years left. I still wake up in the morning and feel like I can be better and motivated. I have energy and I’m healthy.”
And she has a legit chance to win her second US Open and start on a second career slam, after winning the French Open this year to gain her first. After being injured with a bad shoulder, Sharapova looked like a has been in recent years, but the strength and skill has returned.
That makes for interesting topics from the mercurial Russian, who at times can seem somewhat arrogant. But that’s her nature and she doesn’t mean to be mean.
In fact she had some kind words to say about her competitors and because of her experience; Sharapova offers some unique insight about each of them.
First there’s Robson , who Sharapova said she knew for years.
“Laura was someone who was obviously throughout the years ‑ I think she won junior Wimbledon, and she’s someone that I think a lot of people expected to do well at an early age,” Sharapova said. “I mean, this is definitely her breakthrough tournament, her breakthrough Grand Slam where she’s been playing extremely well.
“I’ve practiced with her a few times. Played her at the Olympics and last year at Wimbledon. She has a big game, and also a lefty, which adds to her strength.”
And then there is Stephens, the young American who many have been comparing to the next coming of Venus Williams. Stephens is the daughter of former NFL running back John Stephens who played for the New England Patriots.
“I played against her in Miami,” Sharapova said. “I don’t remember the score, but she’s a great athlete. Moves so well. I watched a little bit of her match yesterday. She’s a great fighter and, you know, was able to come back from that match.
“Obviously that’s the newer generation, and I’m somewhere in the middle there. “
Sharapova also had kind words to say about Clijsters, who was sent home by Robson on Wednesday and into retirement.
“I was very fortunate to play a lot of matches against Kim and follow her career,” she said. “I mean, she was such a great athlete, a great competitor. We always had really tough battles against each other. It was amazing to see her career unfold. The way she came back after, you know, becoming a mom and having that dedication and, you know, that fire again, it was pretty incredible.
“It showed how much she loved the sport and how much passion she had for it.”
With all of this going on – and let’s not forget Andy Roddick – it’s easy to forget Sharapova, but she easily won her first three matches, especially today against Burdette, 6-1 6-1.
Seeded No. 3, Sharapova is feeling pretty good about herself.
“I didn’t know too much going into this event because I hadn’t played on hard in a few months,” Sharapova said. “I think that made me extra focused, and I wanted to really get going from the beginning and be aggressive.
“Yeah, took a little bit of a break after Wimbledon and went home. I think I kind of recharged a little bit. Certainly feel a lot more energy than I did maybe after the French.”
She’s going to be tough and someone to watch out for next week.