Competing at only eight WTA tournaments and dealing with a shoulder injury, Maria Sharapova will finish the season outside the top-100 only for the third time in a career. The Russian is yet to find her best tennis since she returned in April 2017, playing on a solid level last year before losing ground again in 2019.
Still, the Russian is eager to fight for the WTA titles in 2020, hoping to stay injury-free and feeling motivated to challenge rivals from the top as she did for the last 15 years. Maria wrapped up the season with a 6-4, 7-5 triumph over Ajla Tomljanovic in an hour and 27 minutes in this year's women's clash at the Mubadala Tennis Championship, with the Aussie stepping up instead of Amanda Anisimova who had to withdraw due to an injury.
Ajla had the advantage in both sets but it wasn't enough to carry her over the top, allowing Sharapova to grab five breaks and seal the deal in straight sets. Maria lost serve already in the second game when her lob landed long, with Tomljanovic moving 3-0 in front following a lucky net cord winner in the next game.
The Russian broke back at 1-3 when Ajla netted a forehand, getting broken again a few minutes later and sending the Aussie 4-2 up, with no room for further errors in the rest of the set. Tomljanovic hit a double fault in the next game to lose serve as well, keeping the rival in contention and getting broken again at 4-4 after squandering a couple of game points.
Maria held at 30 in the tenth game to grab it 6-4 and had to start all over in set number two as her opponent raced into a 4-1 advantage, similar to the opening set. A return winner at 2-4 kept Sharapova in the set, pulling the break back and delivering another break at 5-5 to move closer to the finish line.
Serving for the triumph, a former world no. 1 converted the third match point in the 12th game, landing an ace to seal the deal and finish the year with a victory. "Any chance that I get to come out and play competitively is an excellent day because I just haven't played a lot," Sharapova said.
"I'm coming out of this match against Ajla happy that I was out there again, and it can only get better from here. Setting the right schedule should be one of the biggest challenges ahead of the new season. I definitely look forward to going to Australia and seeing how things go, see how the body holds up there.
It's tough to tell, I barely played any events last year. The constant start and stop was one of the most challenging parts of the season as well, just when you think I got going a little bit I had to tone it down and stop and then keep training.
Although it seems I haven't played, actually I've been working a lot. I have goals and dreams for life after tennis, but I still have that internal fire and motivation. All on my mind when I wake up is getting into my sports gear and going out and working to be a better tennis player.
I'm in awe of Nadal's entire career. I think his schedule over the years has been really smart. From his point of view, he likes a lot of matches to feel confident, but you need to be healthy to do that, so you have to make the right decisions and that's certainly something that I can learn from him."