The last 24 hours have not been good for Maria Sharapova. She bombed out of the Australian Open in the first round, losing a marathon match to fellow Russian Maria Kirilenko. And, adding insult to ineptitude, her dress was savaged by tennis pundits.
It's not how Sharapova looked in that match that should trouble; it's the steady decline from her early peak. She's won only as many WTA titles since 2007 began as she did in 2006 alone. Her 2008 Australian Open win was one of only four advancements past the quarterfinal stage in Grand Slams in the last three years. A nagging shoulder injury has sapped the power of her serve, and she has been increasingly erratic in her overall game.The woman once thought a surefire heir to the Williams sisters' throne as a powerful and photogenic player has seen herself passed up by younger, more consistent rivals, the return of stalwarts like Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin, and the occasionally dominant Williamses themselves.
And the first-round loss at the Aussie -- her first such defeat in a Grand Slam since 2003 -- seems only to confirm the descent.
There is still time to reverse it. Sharapova will turn just 23 this year, and even with a young retirement likely, that gives her ample time to fully recover from injury and find her form; if she sticks around and improves her work ethic, she might have a lesser version of Venus Williams' career. But it seems as if the best tennis of the sport's erstwhile queen is behind her.â†µ
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