Exile. Return. Challenge. Opportunity. These four words define the spectrum for Maria Sharapova. The five-time Grand Slam singles champ will return to competition on April 25, 2017, playing at the Porsche Grand Prix, a claycourt event in Stuttgart. Thus will end a 15-month absence from competition.
The public, legal and business aspects of Sharapova’s recent life have been well-chronicled. From the preemptive confession about her drug charges to the appeal to have her sentence reduced, to intermittent flurries regarding various business, charity and leisure activities, Sharapova has maintained the kind of public profile expected from a contemporary celebrity. In the last week alone, Sharapova tweets have covered a donation, a Sugarpova-hooked Valentine’s Day message, a video involved a bottle of water and, yes, shots of her on the court.
So what about Sharapova’s tennis? For all the clutter created by her suspension, legal battles and business matters, Sharapova over the last year has been handed an opportunity: An enforced off-season, one she entered in sound health.
Though Sharapova is often quite articulate in her interviews – particularly when describing her business ventures – that degree of candor rarely extends to what she does inside the lines. Perhaps this is the case because Sharapova’s playing style is quite simple, based more on forceful drives and willpower than eclectic tactics and the study of opponents. Or is the tennis at heart her true private spot, all else a preemptive way of keeping attention off the craft that has made her the richest female athlete in history?
Regardless, has Sharapova used this time to upgrade her tennis? Players over the years have spoken repeatedly about how the demands of the tennis season make it difficult to invest in technical research and development. Sharapova has this past year had a golden opportunity. Her serve, early on in her career a weapon of sorts, has in recent seasons been erratic. Might she have addressed any of the motion’s issues? Her movement has greatly improved these last five years. How will it be upon return? Might there be new approaches to spin, height, shot selection? Will the exiled Sharapova have sharpened her volley and overhead technique? Or, upon return, will Sharapova, happy to be back on the court, simply compete with exceptional ferocity. All questions of intrigue.