FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – It’s pretty easy for Maria Sharapova to blame her sluggish start today on the weather.
Sure today’s conditions were perfect, but this past weekend kept her indoors.
“I think the last couple days have been tough on players,” said Sharapova after she downed the unseeded Heather Watson 3-6, 7-5, 6-3. “Obviously none of us practiced yesterday. The day before was raining. Everybody was trying to get 30 minutes on an indoor court, which is always a little bit tough.
“So I think it was just going out there and trying to find that consistency.”
So the 2006 US Open Champion spent yesterday in her hotel room, playing with her dog, going to the gym and taking in what was open in New York City.
Yet, her dog may have been trying to tell her something during the storm yesterday.
“My dog kept like going back to his little bag,” she said. “It kind of freaked me out because that’s a sign he wanted to go home. Maybe the hurricane was going to be bad. We were lucky, yeah, that it was just a little rain.”
New York was lucky yesterday and the No. 3 seed was lucky today when she survived the match with British Watson, even though she committed 58 unforced errors (39 in the first set) and eight double faults.
“I don’t think I did enough to make her feel like she had any pressure in the first set,” Sharapova said. “You know, I’d hit one, two good balls, then hit an error. Whether it was a centimeter or two out, it doesn’t matter, it’s still an error.”
Even with the slow start, Sharapova was too much for Watson. Using her power game, she was able to squeak by in the second set and then dominate the third to advance in this version of the US Open. She is the new Maria, someone who is older, wiser and out to prove she isn’t washed up at the tender age of 24.
Instead, after years of injuries and inconsistencies, Sharapova is ready to dominate again. A year of resurgence saw her win in Rome and then Cincinnati, while losing the finals in Miami and of course Wimbledon. It was good enough to rank her No. 3 in Flushing, and one of the odds on favorites for the tournament.
“Well, I just feel like this year I’ve improved,” she said. “Last year I felt like I would play a couple good matches and then I’d play a bad match. I didn’t have that sense of consistency, and that’s something I felt like something that has changed this year.”
Even at her still young age, Sharapova is the grizzled veteran on the circuit. And much like any other sport, she has made adjustments. Where she was a pure power player before, the Russian by the way of Florida is now a more complete player, with a defensive game to go with her attack.
During her journey back, which she called it “the process” she had many pitfalls, but her hard work is now looking like it is paying off.
“Well, it’s just great to still be a tennis player,” she said. “I’ve said this many times. I’m very fortunate to do what I do, obviously, to do it at a high level and to win tournaments and to win big matches obviously.
“It gives you tremendous amount of confidence and delight that the work you’ve put in, you know, is paying off. It’s the time that you spend away from the courts, the time that people don’t see what you put into the sport of trying to get back there. Just to play a match, and then do it over and over again, not many people experience that feeling, see it.
“So to be able to prove to yourself that you’ve put in that work and there you are at that stage again, giving yourself these opportunities to win Grand Slams again, it’s a good feeling.”
And now with the first round hiccup out of the way, Maria Sharapova seems poised for her Open run.
Of course let’s hope there are no more hurricanes.