Simon Reed

Sharapova back to her best

Simon Reed

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One of the most encouraging things in women's tennis at the moment is the timely return to form of Maria Sharapova.

The Russian has an immense presence on the WTA Tour, and it is very important to the game that she is competitive.

A spate of injuries have hampered her progress over recent years, but she is beginning to regain her confidence and the mental strength which saw her rise to prominence.

Sharapova has pulled out of the tournament in Montreal with a heel injury, but I would make her second favourite to win the US Open behind Serena Williams.

Another contender at Flushing Meadows will be Kim Clijsters, and I am really struggling to work out the Belgian at the moment.

The Cincinnati Open looked to be Sharapova's for the taking until Clijsters suddenly found an extra gear to force a remarkable comeback after the rain break.

She looked almost disinterested in the tennis at times during the tournament, and you wondered whether she wanted to be there at all.

But the Belgian's display following the rain break was as good as she has produced in her entire career, and Sharapova could not respond.

If Clijsters can perform in that manner at the US Open, even Serena will have trouble matching her level, but we all know that the American needs very little preparation.

Svetlana Kuznetsova is a player who I can see performing very well indeed at Flushing Meadows, and I believe she has finally turned a corner in her career.

Kuznetsova has to be a very strong outsider for the US Open if she can continue to progress the way she has been of late, and the Russian will know that she is capable of springing a surprise.

I would love to see Sharapova continue to play the way she has been and find the confidence to perform on the biggest stage like she has done in the past.

Women's tennis needs a strong Sharapova as her fiercely competitive, tenacious character provides a nice comparison to the serene nature of the likes of Clijsters.

The Russian's belligerent play is well suited to the hard courts at Flushing Meadows and, if she can find her groove in the big matches, she can beat anyone in the tournament.

Serena has to be the favourite, but both Clijsters and Sharapova have had productive and testing preparations which should stand them both in good stead.

This year's US Open could be one of the most competitive Grand Slams we have had over the last few years, and Sharapova has every chance of being firmly in contention.

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