Saturday Preview: Sharapova, Nadal, Federer In Action
by Sandra Harwitt|
Maria Sharapova is one of those rare tennis players whose fame extends beyond the sport. One of the most recognizable faces in the world, the 6-foot-2 Russian is a hot search on the Internet, and a hot commodity to hire to endorse any product.
But be assured, it all started for Sharapova because she is a tennis player. The 23-year-old has made it big on the court, winning three Grand Slam titles: 2004 Wimbledon, 2006 U.S. Open and 2008 Australian Open. In all, Sharapova’s won 22 career titles, the last coming at Memphis and Strasbourg in 2010.
Tennis times, however, have been tough for Sharapova since 2008 when injury stalled the former world No. 1’s progress. A right shoulder required surgery and sidelined her from August 2008 to May 2009 – she dropped out of the top 10 after 238 consecutive weeks of keeping elite company in February 2009.
The road back to the game has not been all that easy – getting that shoulder into shape has been a continuing effort. She’s currently ranks No. 13 and she’s had some solid results this season to boast a 10-4 season record. She’s reached the quarterfinals at Auckland, fourth round at the Australian Open and semifinals at Indian Wells. At Indian Wells, the tour stop just before Miami, she went out to world No. 1 and tournament champ, Caroline Wozniacki, 6-1, 6-2.
There’s something else quite different about Sharapova this year. Check out her left hand and you’ll see a beautiful shiny engagement ring, a gift that came with a proposal from fiancée Sasha Vujacic. This is a sporting couple as she met Vujacic, formerly with the LA Lakers, when she started living in Los Angeles. Vujacic was traded a few months back to the New Jersey Nets.
In this third round match on Saturday, Sharapova will take on Sony Ericsson Open wildcard recipient Sabine Lisicki of Germany. The 21-year-old Lisicki, once ranked a career high No. 22 in 2009, has had some injuries and is now located at No. 217 on the WTA Tour computer.
In comparison to Sharapova, Lisicki lags behind. One way to judge is she’s 21 titles short of Sharapova’s 22 – her win came at Charleston, South Carolina in 2009.
Lisicki is taking part in an exciting new Sony Ericsson WTA Tour initiative this year. She is one of six players on tour chosen to be involved in the Xperia Hot Shots web-based show. Involvement comes with perks: exclusive access to other ends of the entertainment industry: music, film, gaming and fashion. The other players making up the Xperia Hot Shots are: American Bethanie Mattek-Sands, Briton Heather Watson, Frenchwoman Alize Cornet, Romanian Sorana Cirstea, and Slovakian Dominika Cibulkova.
Lisicki is no pushover and she’s more than capable of making Sharapova work for a win. But the Russian should rule this encounter to score a fourth-round berth.
In men’s action, world No. 1 Rafael Nadal is set to play Kei Nishikori of Japan in second round action.
Nishikori is fortunate enough to have his family here at the Sony Ericsson Open – his parents and sister traveled from their home in Japan to be here, a trip that was organized before the horrific earthquake and tsunami devastated much of the country.
After his first round victory over Jeremy Chardy of France on Thursday, Nishikori raised the fact he sometimes wonders if it’s right for him to be playing while back home people are suffering. But he’s decided that continuing at his job and trying to help in other ways is the appropriate plan. When on the court, Nishikori is wearing a black ribbon on the left sleeve of his shirt to acknowledge the disaster. And he was one of a number of players taking part in a charity soccer game against the Fort Lauderdale Strikers on Wednesday night, an event organized by fellow player, Novak Djokovic.
Nishikori is hoping to one day soon become the best male player from Japan and to do that he needs to be ranked at No. 45 – former Japanese player, Shuzo Matsuoka, earned a career high ranking of No. 46 during his career.
Unfortunately, for Nishikori -- who is now working with talented coach Brad Gilbert – he’s drawn Nadal next. Nishikori says he likes tough challenges and this will be a tough challenge. Here’s how they matchup: Nadal owns 43 career titles, which includes nine Grand Slam titles, Nishikori won the 2008 Delray Beach International Tennis Championships.
Nishikori won’t shy away from the task at hand, and having Gilbert’s expertise will help him make the match a credible outing. But Nadal will not be nailed.
Roger Federer (Switzerland) v Radek Stepanek (Czech Republic) – There’s all this talk about Federer heading the wrong way on the ranking charts now that he’s dropped down to No. 3. Stepanek is a guy who can work the upset, but Federer will not fail today.
Caroline Wozniacki (Denmark) v Daniela Hantuchova (Slovakia) – At one time it was thought Hantuchova would be a major force in the game, but she’s now more of a steady top 30 player. Wozniacki will win this encounter, but don’t be surprised if she drops a set to Hantuchova for the first time in three matches they’ve played.
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