Simon Reed

Sharapova a real threat

Simon Reed

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Maria
Sharapova didn't really have to play anyone particularly highly ranked last
week in Tokyo,
other than Jelena Jankovic in the final, but she looked good on her way to
winning the title.

I've said this before and will say
it again: Sharapova is a different breed to the rest of the Russians. Most
Russian players seem to hate being hunted when they get to the top, but
Sharapova constantly shows she loves it.

She seems to enjoy working things
out as a tournament progresses and even as a match progresses. She has a really
good chance this week in Beijing,
especially now that Venus Williams and Dinara Safina have been knocked out
early.

I think Venus is getting to the end
of her career. I often think tennis bears a bit of a resemblance to boxing, in
that you see some players withstanding hit after hit until they eventually run
out of steam. That's what has happened to Venus yesterday in Beijing
against Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, and also last week in Tokyo against the same player. She looks
tired and flat.

Venus, Safina and, I sense, Serena
Williams also could really do with some time off. If the WTA Championships
weren't coming up soon I think they would be calling time on their season.
Ivanovic has made the right decision by finishing hers. She will not qualify
for the WTA Championships and might be better off taking time out to get some
rest and come back next year refreshed.

Jankovic also looked much better in
Tokyo last
week, as if she was enjoying her tennis a bit more again after a tough start to
the year. Remember she was blaming her coach Ricardo Sanchez for working her
too hard and she said she felt like she had too much muscle? Well whatever the
reason for her sluggish start to the season, she lost early on in a few
tournaments and once that starts happening the confidence goes and its hard to
get back on track. Then she had that trouble off the court (her grandmother
died and her mother was ill) and it is bound to affect you.

If she does make it to the WTA
Championships (Jankovic is currently eighth in the race, with three of the
eight places still available) she needs to go there and really challenge for
the title, especially with Safina and the Williams sisters struggling for form.

I do feel for Safina though. Losing
the world number one spot will probably be the best thing for her. She has
always been a tense player but being at the top has made her even more tense
and losing the ranking could relax her a little.

But I think what's really worrying
is the way Safina returned last week in Beijing.
She had taken some time off, had a holiday and came back saying she felt
refreshed and ready to play again. But one second-round loss later, to Chang
Kai-Chen, and she was seen crying outside the women's locker room. I dread to
think what her reaction was after this week's early loss to Zhang Shuai.

It's not Safina's fault the way the
ranking system works or the fact that Serena doesn't play enough tournaments
outside the Grand Slams to have taken over at the top before now. It's like
with Jenson Button's position in formula one. He had a great start to the
season and won a number of races but has struggled since Silverstone. He'll
probably still go on to win the championship though.

Is anyone saying he doesn't deserve
it because his form has dropped and others can't catch him? Is anyone saying
that he shouldn't win it simply because no-one else has managed the consistency
to take the top spot off him? No.

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