It was October 2017, that Maria Sharapova won the Tianjin Open title from Russia's Aryna Sabalenka. She hadn't been in a titleholder's position since two years earlier winning the Italian Open in 2015. But what has changed for Sharapova since then? The title victory moved her up to 57th in the world, now she is no.
42. Sabalenka was no. 101 then, now she's no. 47 despite having no titles yet, but she's still dominant on the WTA tour and oftentimes a threat. "You never know when it will all come together, but it happened to me this week in Tianjin...I'd like to thank my team, it's been a really long journey..." Sharapova had said on the podium after winning the title.
She's looking at a year's anniversary of playing the Stuttgart, Porsche Tennis event comeback and realizes how nervous and tense the times were. The type of welcome she'd get, the comments of players in her favour and ones not really wanting her to return and she herself thinking if her tennis skills would return again, consistent enough for her to win matches at all.
Besides from Tianjin, Sharapova had only reached a few rounds of tournaments and had gone as deep as the quarterfinals of the US Open. She was forced to withdraw from events that she was awarded wild cards because of injuries, ailments and just possibly fatigue.
She retired from her second round match at the Italian Open with a left thigh injury playing against Mirjana Lucic-Baroni in the third set. The retirement happened after 2-1/2 hours of play and she said "I apologize for having to withdraw from my match today...I will be getting all the necessary examinations to make sure it is not serious".
The realization of returning on tour was a bit overwhelming and she admitted that "It takes a lot to get that feeling back of the repetitiveness, the match play, of playing five matches in seven days...it is very intense...that's where my mind and my focus is, rather than who I'm going to be playing against" Sharapova emphasized.
She had a recurring ailment with her thigh muscle which caused her to withdraw from the entire grass season. She was rejected from getting a wild card at Roland Garros because of the drug ban and not an injury situation. Sharapova was scheduled to appear in the Canadian Open but withdrew due to a left arm injury and withdrawal at Cincinnati was done despite her wild card status.
As she appeared to get her momentum working into tournaments an injury or ailment would develop. This 2018 season so far only seen her into a few rounds of a few tournaments before losing and the biggest was at Indian Wells to Naomi Osaka in the opening round.
Many had mentioned sarcastically of her lack on taking the meldonium for physical help and endurance keeping her from going deep into tournaments; others stated that she still hasn't the stamina yet for going extensively int the tour again.
Tianjin was the last title, but will it be the end? No one knows especially Maria Sharapova. Competition is tougher and younger and whether it's in the cards for her to ever win any more titles in her tennis career or not, she's playing the sport which is her passion and it's too difficult to predict or decide when the next title will come her way.