Maria Sharapova beat her friend, Maria Kirilenko, 4-6, 6-4, 6-1, in the fourth round at the Nasdaq-100

The Nasdaq-100 looks like most people’s brackets for the NCAA basketball championships – lots of the favorites are gone. Some of the them didn’t show up: Andre Agassi is still hurting and conceded that his career could be over though he’s optimistic that he can continue; Lindsay Davenport (back), Serena Williams (knee), Venus Williams (elbow) and Mary Pierce (foot) have all withdrawn with injuries that range from back to front and top to bottom. Some of them were knocked out: Justine Henin-Hardenne was beaten by Meghann Shaughnessy in the 2nd round and Kim Clijsters lost in the same round to Jill Craybas; Rafael Nadal lost in the first round to Carlos Moya – what is that about, is his ankle still bothering him?

There is one other connection between the NCAA basketball tournament and tennis: the University of Florida is in the final four partially due to the excellent play of six foot eleven center Joakim Noah, son of French Open winner Yannick Noah. Noah, the son, went to the same school as John McEnroe, Collegiate School in New York City, before graduating from Lawrenceville High School in New Jersey. Collegiate can be a wild place. When I was living in New York, Collegiate had a student who insisted on wearing a dress over his school uniform. His father was appropriately supportive, I’m happy to say. He said that his son was just going through a sexual identity crisis.

I never saw a picture of the dress or the student but I’m sure he’d appreciate the fashion show that is the fourth round match between Maria Sharapova and Maria Kirilenko.

I never saw a picture of the dress or the student but I’m sure he’d appreciate the fashion show that is the fourth round match between Maria Sharapova and Maria Kirilenko. Sharapova is debuting a new outfit with a form-fitted black-and-white top and a black skirt that wraps around her very thin body. The skirt starts out shorter in the back and gets longer as it wraps around the front. Kirilenko was just as fashionable. She wore a white dress with a frilly skirt that is two-tiered in the back and she had a taupe colored sleeveless shirt over her dress. The outfit was designed by Stella McCartney. Kirilenko has been signed to represent McCartney’s new tennis line.

If I seem off topic and distracted it’s because the tennis here in Biscayne Bay has not been holding my attention. Andy Roddick and James Blake have both breezed through their matches. Last night, Tommy Haas tried to take out Roger Federer and failed miserably, 6-1, 6-3. Let’s take a look at the Sharapova – Kirilenko match and see if things are any more interesting.

Kirilenko is Sharapova’s best friend so she knows Sharapova’s game and she has a good strategy: stay on the baseline, take the ball early and run everything down. Sharapova is stronger but Kirilenko is quicker and moves better. Just one small problem: Kirilenko ran out of gas while running everything down.

It’s easier to improve your conditioning than it is to change your psyche.

People say that Amelie Mauresmo, the new number one by the way, improved her mental approach so that she can win big matches. I think the answer lies in her conditioning. Now that Mauresmo runs up mountains in Switzerland, or whatever it is she does in the off-season, and takes rest periods during the season, she can win by getting every ball back and exhausting her opponent instead of being the aggressor, a style that doesn’t fit her personality. It’s easier to improve your conditioning than it is to change your psyche.

Not that Mauresmo can’t hit the ball very hard, she can. Kirilenko can too. When she hits a ground stroke, Kirilenko looks like Mary Pierce as she gets into a sumo-like squat and hits it deep from everywhere on the court. But she’d lose if she went toe to toe with Sharapova.

Speaking of Sharapova, it’s time to induct her as the third member of The Fight Club along with Elena Dementieva and Marcos Baghdatis. The club is for players who never give up in a match and find a way to win even when their forehand is not working and the unforced errors are piling up.

After losing her serve on the first game of the match, Kirilenko broke back to get to 2-2 then won five straight games as Sharapova’s forehand went completely awol. Sharapova had twenty unforced errors at the end of the first set.

The second set wasn’t much better with eighteen unforced errors but Kirilenko was getting tired and Sharapova survived two double faults to win the last three games and even the match at one set apiece.

Good players can sniff an injured animal. “I could see that she was physically getting a little bit tired, wasn’t getting to as many balls. I started to pick up my game, ” Sharapova said after the match. Sharapova tightened her game up and hit only five unforced errors in the third set while winning all five points when she came to the net.

But it wasn’t easy and though Kirilenko isn’t ready for The Fight Club yet, it took Sharapova five match points in the last game of the third set before she finally put Kirilenko away to win the match.

Kirilenko is no stiff, she’s ranked number twenty-two in the world. She’s a good strategical thinker and plays great defense. But she might want to run up and down a few mountains.

Average Rating: 4.9 out of 5 based on 266 user reviews.