When Maria Sharapova stunned Serena Williams in the 2004 Wimbledon Final to win her first Grand Slam at age 17, there seemed to be no limit to what the glamorous Russian could accomplish as a professional tennis player. Entering the 2008 French open, Sharapova was a three-time Major Champion and the No. 1 ranked player in the world. It looked like it was Maria's time to really dominate the women's game. However, early exits at Roland Garros and at the All-England Club were precursors to the devastating news she received from doctors in August. She had been suffering from a rotator cuff tear in her shoulder since April. The 21 year-old underwent surgery in October and prepared for several months away from the game she loved.
Having dropped to as low as No. 126 in the world during her leave of absence recovering from surgery, Sharapova knew a lot of work had to be done when she played her first singles tournament in ten months at the Warsaw Open in May of 2009. To the surprise of many, Maria reached the quarterfinals in Warsaw, the quarterfinals at Roland Garros, and seemed to be returning to form much quicker than expected. By the time the 2009 Wimbledon Championships came around in late June, Sharapova was the No. 24 seed. Unfortunately, Wimbledon did not go well for her, as she bowed out in the second round. After a great summer hard-court season in North American, American teenager Melanie Oudin made Sharapova an upset victim in the third round of the US Open. At the tail end of 2009, Maria Sharapova won a tournament in Tokyo and was able to finish the year at No. 14 in the world, a great accomplishment.
2010 was a very rough year for the Russian. Nothing seemed to come easy, and her serve became a major problem. There were matches where she was serving up 20-30 double faults. She failed to make it past the fourth round at any of the four Majors in 2010, and Maria finished the year ranked No. 18 in the world. All of the hard work put in by Maria Sharapova to return from shoulder surgery finally started to pay dividends in 2011, when she was able to put her game together. A solid run to the second week in Melbourne was followed by a run to the semifinals at Roland Garros. This tied her best performance at the French Open. Following this disappointment, Sharapova promised herself to really work on her clay court game, needing the French Open title to complete the career Grand Slam. The grass courts at Wimbledon have always been a comfortable place for the hard-hitting Sharapova, and a run to the Final at the 2011 Championships was a great accomplishment. The downside? First-time Major Finalist Petra Kvitova took it to the Russian veteran in the Final, winning 6-3 6-4. A very consistent finish to the year put Sharapova at No. 4 in the world when the 2011 WTA Season ended. It was now time for Sharapova to win a Major and complete her comeback from injury.
She had the chance to do this at the 2012 Australian Open. Some incredible shot-making and power helped Sharapova make a run to the Final in Melbourne for the third time, beating Kvitova in the semifinals. Her opponent in the final was first-time Major Finalist Victoria Azarenka. Sound familiar? It should, as the result was much the same. Azarenka rolled past Maria 6-3 6-0. On Saturday, Maria Sharapova will play in her third Major Final since last year's Wimbledon. Once again, it is against a first-time Major Finalist. Sara Errani, the No. 21 seed from Italy, has had a tremendous tournament so far, defeating multiple past champions and two top-10 seeds. On paper, Sharapova is the healthy favorite, but she will need to be at the top of her game to win her first French Open title and complete the career Grand Slam. Maria will need to serve well andbe willing to attack Errani's weak serve. A solid return game will help take some pressure off Sharapova's sometimes-shaky serve. Although Errani will not be an easy out, Maria will have way too much firepower for the 25 year-old Italian and will finally win a French Open in her first ever Final at the event. There's no better way to cap off a return from injury.