The Year of Living Dangerously

Tuesday, March 15, 2005 /by

Maria Sharapova is more than a dramatic presence; she’s becoming a bona fide drama queen. And I mean that in a good way—if it were the bad way, this item would be about how she lost a match, threw a hissyfit, stiffed the press, and backed her tournament car into a fire hydrant before speeding off to buy herself a pair of jewel-encrusted mules.

Instead, it’s about how Sharapova blew five match points in a real smackdown with Fabiola Zuluaga—who was playing great—before eking out a fourth-round win 7-5 in the third. That makes her a principal in three certifiable “I can’t keep watching this, I must keep watching this” matches this year. The two previous ones were her heartbreaking loss to Serena Williams in the semifinals of the Australian Open (Sharapova squandered three match points in that one), and her third-set-tiebreaker win over Lindsay Davenport in the Tokyo final.

The loss to Williams may end up looking like one of those subtle but career-altering matches that most great players store in their psyches, like a dog burying a beef bone in the yard. Reflecting on how wasting three match points in Melbourne may have made her a more seasoned competitor, Sharapova said: “I’m not going deny it—it all comes back in your mind . . . . It’s good to be able to pull through a match like this because that’s what, you know, top players are all about. I’ve been in that situation a month or two ago, so, you know, I’m happy to improve. I didn’t lose again after having three match points—obviously, then I would be pretty ashamed of myself. It feels good to know that you were that situation again and you improved.”

Indeed.

After Sharapova lost to Williams, I took the position that players destined for greatness (think Graf, Evert, et al.) simply did not lose those kinds of matches at comparable stages in their careers. I have to hand it to Sharapova now; her bounce-back has been impressive, suggesting that the loss to Williams was more learning experience than snapshot of competitive character.

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