With the tennis world still in shock from Serena Williams failing to complete the Calendar Grand Slam at the hands of Roberta Vinci of all people, the world’s top women start the fall Asian swing in Wuhan, China this week. Serena is missing, but was never supposed to play. Russian icon Maria Sharapova and her Canadian counterpart Eugenie Bouchard were slated to return to the court after long injury layoffs, but neither did. These two feisty competitors and marketing tycoons have each had rough 2015 campaigns since facing off in the Aussie Open quarters in January as pictured above. The story of each woman is worth a closer look.
For Sharapova, 2015 started as if it was going to be a banner year with a title in Brisbane and a runner up finish to Serena at the Aussie Open. After January though, it was a struggle for Sharapova to merely stay on the court. She withdrew prior to the semis of a small event in Acapulco with a viral illness. She followed that up by losing early at both North American hardcourt events in Indian Wells and Miami. She seemed to be hampered by a leg injury. Her struggles carried over to the clay. She lost her first match in Stuttgart, where she was previously unbeaten. Despite a brief resurgence that included a title in Rome, Sharapova failed to reach the 2nd week in her French Open title defense. The five time major winner grinded through to the Wimbledon semis three weeks later, where she was thumped by Serena. Shortly after Wimbledon, she suffered another leg injury in training. Despite terming the injury as “minor”, Sharapova eventually withdrew from events in Toronto and Cincinnati, as well as the U.S. Open. She finally returned this week in Wuhan, but was forced to retire from her opening match after a fall that injured her wrist. It is unclear when Sharapova will return to the tour. She has pulled out of Beijing next week, which means it may not be until 2016. Clearly, 2015 is a year to forget for Sharapova.
Bouchard broke through in 2014, reaching the semis or better in three of the four majors. She started this year with a solid quarterfinal showing in Australia. What happened after that is a total mystery. She won a grand total of 2 matches from February-mid July. She played a full complement of tournaments too, and was not injured as far as anyone knows. This stretch included first round losses at the French Open and Wimbledon. She enlisted the help of tennis legend Jimmy Connors for the U.S. Open and finally seemed to get back on track, reaching the 4th round. Then, she was hit by a cruel stroke of bad luck. Bouchard fell in the locker room after her mixed doubles match at the Open and sustained a concussion. She was forced to withdraw before her singles quarterfinal and has not played since.
The question on everyone’s mind is can these two megastars get their groove back? Sharapova has earned the benefit of doubt with 35 career titles, including five majors and an Olympic silver medal. I also like that she has not made any radical changes to her game or her coaching team. It is has worked for her for over a decade now. She clearly has the skill set, drive, and right people around her to get back to the top. In her press conference after her retirement this week, she said that she was “extremely frustrated” by all the injuries, but “could not wait to get back out there.” It may not be a straight line for Sharapova, but she will get back to the top. Write her off at your own risk. Bouchard is a tougher call. I think she is capable, but she has never been dealt with this kind of adversity before. She has been through three coaches this year and seems utterly confused as to why she has not won many matches. She needs to hear one consistent voice and stick with that person, even if the results do not come quickly. You do not accomplish what Bouchard did in 2014 without being talented and extremely mentally tough. I think she will get it all back as well, but it may take her a few years. She is still in her early 20s.
I wrote this post because watching incredibly talented athletes like these two struggle when they have is fascinating and their stories show you that it does not matter what you have done in the past in sports, you have to bring it at the highest level every single day. Trust me, Maria is aware of that. Genie is learning this the hard way. However, every athlete must learn at some point. Also, these two are extremely popular and marketable. Having them both off the tour hurts attendance and television ratings. Their faces need to be out front, just like Serena’s, not losing in the first round or on the trainer’s table. Love them or hate them, the sport needs both Maria and Genie back at their best in the worst way. Here is to hoping they get there and do it soon.