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Maria Sharapova Seeks Stability With New Coach Sven Groeneveld

Nov 22nd 2013

During the decade after winning her first major title at Wimbledon, Maria Sharapova has worked full-time with only two coaches beyond her father, Yuri, and former hitting partner, Michael Joyce.  Those two partnerships unfolded in stark contrast to each other.  Sharapova relied on Thomas Hogstedt’s guidance to complete her career Grand Slam at Roland Garros in 2012, the capstone of her transformation from a self-labeled “cow on ice” to the queen of clay.  Their partnership lasted two and a half years and featured many more highlights than that fortnight in Paris, including three additional finals at majors and marquee titles at Indian Wells, Rome, and Cincinnati. 

When the calm Swede exited Sharapova’s box, the bombastic Jimmy Connors entered.  A seven-time major champion, Connors never had coached in the WTA before, whereas Hogstedt had accumulated ample experience with Li Na before joining the Russian.  Despite the flurry of excitement, the partnership between a current legend and a retired legend ultimately fell flatter than a stale souffle.  Sharapova dismissed Connors after just one month and one match together, cutting her losses with efficiency.

This time, she waited longer to unveil her next coach.  The world No. 4 seems to have shifted back toward a more Hogstedt-like figure in Dutchman Sven Groeneveld, who most recently had worked in the Adidas Player Development Program.  The unassuming Groeneveld has recalled Hogstedt in his calm but quietly encouraging demeanor, a contrast with the intensity exuded by Connors.  For someone with as much inner willpower as Sharapova, a more unassuming coaching style should build a more stable relationship.  And stability may be what she needs from her coach as much as anything during this period when she recovers from her latest shoulder injury.  Calm patience from those around Sharapova will fortify her belief that she can surge back to her best form once again.

Maria Sharapova

Groeneveld has compiled outstanding credentials on both the ATP and WTA Tours over the last two decades, leading three different players to major titles and three other players to major finals.  Just as impressively, he has coached the full range of playing styles from the explosive first strikes of Monica Seles and Ana Ivanovic to the counterpunching of Caroline Wozniacki and Andy Murray.  Thus, he understands the nuances of the game as well as anyone does, and his long years of service should have left him with a deep reservoir of knowledge. 

On the other hand, Groeneveld has earned much of his greatest success by working with players early in their careers.  His partnerships with Ivanovic and Wozniacki, for example, came during the period of their initial breakthroughs.  Moreover, Groeneveld’s recent work with the Adidas Player Development Program and at his tennis academy in Amsterdam portrays him as someone more familiar with building a foundation of fundamentals than filling cracks in the mortar of a fortress.  And Sharapova has remained a fortress despite all of the adversity that she has encountered.  The Russian’s game is fully formed at this stage in her career, so Groeneveld’s insights must come in the form of minor tweaks, perhaps targeted toward certain key matchups.

It is no secret that Sharapova would relish the chance to conquer world No. 1 Serena Williams, who has dominated their meetings since succumbing to the Russian in the 2004 Wimbledon final.  If Groeneveld can help his charge overcome that hurdle, much as Hogstedt helped her solve the riddle of clay, he will have earned every penny paid him.  So will he if he develops a plan to mitigate Sharapova’s chronic shoulder bursitis in a way that allows her to peak effectively for key tournaments while extending her career as long as she sees fit.  Experience matters greatly in confronting both of those challenges, as the Russian probably recognized in selecting Groeneveld.  At first glance, the choice looks thoughtful and shrewd:  what one would expect from a businesswoman as sophisticated as Sharapova. 

Having cast aside the Connors experiment, the Russian has positioned herself for a strong return in the new year.  She plans to start her 2014 campaign in Brisbane, like many of her leading rivals.  The intervening weeks will offer Sharapova time to develop her new coaching partnership before exposing it to the blazing Australian sun.