x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Sharapova shoulders burden of being the major attraction

There are five Russian women in the world's top 10 going into Wimbledon but all of them have been eclipsed during the build-up by a compatriot languishing at 59 in the rankings.

Maria Sharapova was the champion in 2004.
Maria Sharapova was the champion in 2004.

LONDON // There are five Russian women in the world's top 10 going into the Wimbledon Championships but all of them have been eclipsed during the build-up by a compatriot languishing at 59 in the rankings. Maria Sharapova has that misleading world rating in view of her absence from the WTA Tour for nearly 10 months. The blonde won the tournament as a relatively unknown 17-year-old five years ago and used that stunning triumph as a springboard to the kind of fame and fortune that her currently "superior" countrywomen can only dream about.

Dinara Safina may be top seed and favourite to carry off the Maud Watson silver salver but her credentials are seriously impaired by the way she carried the burden of top seed in the French Open final two weeks ago. Svetlana Kuznetsova, who beat her in that disappointing Roland Garros confrontation, now has two grand slam titles but is still not considered a major attraction on tour, while Elena Dementieva must rate as one of the most anonymous figures to have risen to the status of world No 4.

Similarly, Vera Zvonareva and Nadia Petrova, whose high rankings contribute to Russia's high profile in the women's draw, have done little to suggest that they can become household names to compare with Sharapova. The organising committee have sensibly recognised Sharapova's pedigree and pulling power in giving her protection in the 128-woman draw with a seeding of 24. That gesture could have worked out more favourably for Sharapova, though. If results go according to plan, she will meet the 10th-seeded Petrova in the third round for the right to meet the talented eighth seed Victoria Azaranka in the last 16, with the daunting Serena Williams likely to be waiting for the winner.

Sharapova is not expecting too much in what will be only her fourth tournament since she underwent surgery to rectify a damaged serving shoulder but promised that she will employ all of her renowned fighting qualities for as long as possible in the demanding Wimbledon fortnight. Encouraged by an unexpected run to the French Open quarter-finals - a run that was brought to an embarrassing 6-0, 6-2 halt by Slovakia's Dominika Cibulkova - she said on the tournament's official website: "I've always been a fighter.

"If I was mentally weak I wouldn't be doing this, I'd be on some island with a nice cold drink. But there is no better feeling than waving to the crowd after you've won." Sharapova, who reached the semi-finals of her grass court warm-up tournament in Birmingham, added: "I think this is the first time in my career I can really say I don't have any expectations. "I don't know how things are going to work out because I haven't played many competitive matches yet. That's a big factor for my body and my shoulder.

"After the operation I couldn't play for such a long time. There were three months when I didn't touch a tennis racket. That sort of thing was obviously stressful because you don't know if you're ever going to get the chance to play again." It has been noticeable during her comeback that she has toned down her previously penetrative service to reduce the risk of further injury. "After shoulder surgery I'm not going to come out and hit aces left and right," he said.

"I didn't set goals for my comeback. I'm just grateful to be playing matches. But I wouldn't be coming back from serious injury and surgery if I didn't love competing. I believe eventually I will be better than before. I wouldn't be here otherwise." @Email:wjohnson@thenational.ae