Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Global 2012: Maria Sharapova done as No. 1

Maria Sharapova – Wimbledon 2009Maria Sharapova – Wimbledon 2009 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Maria Sharapova barely had time to settle into her No. 1 ranking before being bumped following a disappointing 6-4, 6-3 fourth-round loss to 15th-seeded Sabine Lisicki at Wimbledon on Monday. Sharapova has never won a tournament when ranked No. 1.

Losing the match was costly, as she had rankings points from reaching last year's Wimbledon finals to defend. But it was only part of the reason Sharapova, who moved to No. 1 on June 11 after winning the French Open, will be unseated from the WTA's top spot.

When Victoria Azarenka embarrassed Ana Ivanovic 6-1, 6-0 in a fourth-round encounter that lasted only 62 minutes, the deal was done: Either Azarenka or Agnieszka Radwanska will be No. 1 when Wimbledon winds down.

Of course, Sharapova has had previous experience being the first lady of the courts -- she has spent a total of 21 nonconsecutive weeks in the top spot. So she knows the position is tenuous at best.

"As far as motivation, of course you want to stay at the top as long as you can," Sharapova said. "Obviously, everyone guns for that spot as it is the top spot."

Sharapova needn't worry about fame being fleeting. The fans have never brushed her off, not even when she was sidelined following right-shoulder surgery. Except for one doubles match, she was off the court rehabbing from August 2008 to May 2009.

And she wasn't pushed away by her sponsors, either. She actually used time away from the game to make extra appearances for them.

Knowing everything she's been through enabled Sharapova to regard her current situation with perspective.

"Obviously, what I achieved a few weeks ago doesn't just go away in a few minutes," she said. "I'll have that for the rest of my career.

"But the tennis world always keeps going."

Sharapova's downcast facial expression during her postmatch news conference gave away her unhappiness with the match. But she said the right things, indicating an understanding of the landscape regarding her immediate fate.

"At the end of the day, the reason we start at the first round is you have to go through all those opponents to get to the final stage of a tournament, whether it's a Grand Slam or the middle of nowhere," she said. "That's the reason we go out and play.

"It could be the No. 1 seed against someone that's come out of the woods. It doesn't matter. ... On any given day, there can be an upset. That's the sport. That's why we watch."

In this fourth-round match, Sharapova didn't falter against a nobody. Lisicki, who missed the 2010 season with a left-ankle injury, is no stranger to success at Wimbledon. Armed with one of the most potent serves in the women's game, she made the semifinals here last year and the quarterfinals in 2009.

"I think a lot of the credit goes to my opponent," Sharapova said. "She played extremely well today and did many things better than I did on this given day. You just have to hand it to her."

Sharapova heads home to rest and regroup ahead of the upcoming London Olympics, where she will carry the Russian flag in the opening ceremony.

As for Lisicki, who said Wimbledon is her favorite place to play, she moves on to face a fellow German, eighth-seeded Angelique Kerber, in the quarterfinals.

Lisicki didn't depart for the day without a message that could resonate with whoever wins the 2013 French Open.

"It feels amazing, I mean, she won the French Open," Lisicki said of Sharapova. "Actually, that's a good omen for me because I've beaten the French Open champion three times here. In '09 I beat [Svetlana] Kuznetsova, last year Li Na and this year Maria.

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