How Far Will Maria Sharapova Go?

Sharapova and Schnyder serve up the first controversy at the heretofore sleepy French Open.

By the end of her match between with Patty Schynder on Sunday, the crowd was raining boos down on Maria Sharapova. They were unhappy about an incident that was the exact opposite of Justine Henin’s hand-raising adventure with Serena Williams in 2003.

In that situation, Henin raised her hand to call time out as Serena was serving. Serena served a double fault and Henin refused to admit that had she raised her hand. Here, the score was 7-7 in the third set – no third set tiebreakers here, remember – and someone in the crowd yelled as Sharapova served. Schnyder raised her hand to call time out, the serve dropped in for an ace, and the chair umpire let the ace stand. Why? Schnyder didn’t raise her hand until the ball had crossed the net and that’s a bit late to be calling time out.

I don’t remember the incident in 2003 but I’m guessing the crowd supported Henin. She’s not only Belgian but her opponent was an American. Here, the crowd supported the Swiss Schnyder, and not U.S. resident Sharapova.

That’s not Sharapova’s fault and you can’t blame Sharapova for the chair umpire’s call but you could complain about her next act. Schnyder was serving to stay in the match at 7-8 and was up 40-15 when Sharapova walked over to her seat to get a new racket even though she didn’t have a broken string. It was an act of pure gamesmanship. She got a warning from the chair umpire for delaying the game but it was worth it. Schnyder didn’t win another point and Sharapova broke to win the match, 3-6, 6-4, 9-7.

There is no gutsier player on the WTA tour than Maria Sharapova. She’d fought off two match points in the third set. She’d beaten a clay court player despite an ailing shoulder for which she’s taken a cortisone shot. She’d made it to the quarterfinals despite missing all of the clay court season except for a Tier III event in Istanbul last week.

Yet the same naked ambition that got Sharapova through the turmoil turns people off. We used to tune in for John McEnroe yelling at chair umpires and Jimmy Connors rubbing out opposing players’ ball marks. Today, though, we like our champions to be polite and civil. They can have ambition but it can’t be naked. Today, if you raise your hand to call a timeout then later deny it, we’ll hold it against you. If you’re opponent has suffered from a controversial decision and needs only one more point to stay in the match, you don’t mess with their serve.

Last week, baseball player Alex Rodriguez yelled “Mine!” at an opposing infielder who was trying to field a pop fly. The poor guy backed away from the ball and it dropped in for a hit. Rodriguez was lambasted by the media and even his own manager for going too far.

Sharapova is the commercial star of the WTA but she won’t get the respect she deserves for her game until we like her a bit more.

Pollster: here’s the new poll (go to the sidebar to cast your vote)

Sharapova is into the quarterfinals and will play Ana Chakvetadze next and either Svetlana Kuznetsova or Ana Ivanovic if she makes it to the semifinals. Sharapova beat Chakvetadze here two years ago and has never played Kuznetsova or Ivanovic on clay. So here’s the question:

Sharapova got to the quarterfinals with a bum shoulder and a lot of guts, what are her chances of getting to the final? 25%? 50%? 75%? 100%?

Did you know, by the way, that Ivanovic outweighs Sharapova by 60lbs. No wonder Ivanovic reminds me of Jennifer Capriati. Kuznetsova outweighs Sharapova by 61lbs. Wow, that is two solidly built women.

See also:
B**tch And Sing Dept: At the French Open
Suicide Pools and Richard Gasquet
B**tch and Sing Dept: Springtime in Paris
Serena, Roger and Posh Spice
Familiar Final at the French Open (French Open preview)