Comparing tennis' comeback kids
NEW YORK -- Maria Sharapova and Ana Ivanovic played each other in the Glam Slam final at the Australian Open in 2008 but were struggling by the end of the season. Now both are rediscovering their form, having made plenty of changes along the way.
Sharapova had always had a strong serve, but she was forced to begin experimenting with an abbreviated service motion when her shoulder troubles began. She switched back and forth a couple of times, and was often plagued by double faults in the process.
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But with her shoulder now returning to full strength, Sharapova has resumed her original delivery -- and this time, she hopes, it's permanent. "I knew eventually I would go back, I just didn't quite know when," she said, 14 months after returning from shoulder surgery in October 2008. "But I knew that if I was going to come back when I did last year, I had to start with an abbreviated motion."
On the surface, nothing much has changed. But Sharapova's father Yuri -- ever-present in her box two years ago -- is rarely seen these days, while Michael Joyce's status has officially gone from hitting partner to coach.
Sharapova recently hired trainer Scott Byrnes, who used to work with Ivanovic.
Officially, Sharapova's racket is the Prince EX03 Black 100, but it's anyone's guess what's actually under the blacked-out frame she's currently using.
Sharapova was playing with a clearly marked Prince racket at the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells in March, where she suffered an elbow injury that sidelined her for a couple of months. When she returned in May, she was using an unmarked frame with no Prince logo stenciled on her strings.
In an apparent effort to protect her shoulder, Sharapova has also been playing around with her strings. She was said to be playing with Luxilon's newer, supposedly gentler M2 version last year. And this year she began using the freshly developed Babolat RPM Blast -- the "black string," which gained publicity at the French Open when three of the four singles finalists used it.
Ivanovic temporarily tinkered with her service motion last summer in an effort to ward off shoulder problems, but somewhere along the line her toss went awry. Things have improved since hooking up with coach Heinz Gunthardt early this year, and her encouraging results last month have helped alleviate a problem that was essentially psychological to begin with. "There are some bad tosses, like everyone else has them," she said. "But I hope I'm not as famous for that anymore."
As mentioned, Ivanovic has been working with Gunthardt, Steffi Graf's former coach, since February.
A year earlier, she had taken on Martina Navratilova's former coach Craig Kardon, which lasted about three months before she returned to work with adidas player development coach Sven Groeneveld.
During this period of flux in Ivanovic's team, she also stopped working with Byrnes, her longtime trainer, and took on Damian Prasad as a replacement at the end of 2009. After another change, she is currently working with the Serbian Fed Cup trainer, Marija Lojanica.
"I worked a lot on my fitness," Ivanovic said. "That was a little bit of a catch-22 before, because I wanted to work on it, but there were always little injuries and pains.
"It's been also a lot fun working out with a girl and just having fun and throwing in a dance or whatever. You know, just actually enjoying it."
Ivanovic had used the Yonex RQiS 1 Tour XL since the end of 2008 but switched to the brand's latest EZONE line before reaching the semifinals in Cincinnati.
"I really like the new racquet and the new model Yonex put out," she said. "It really helped my game a lot, especially in the end range. But I think it's combined with all the hard work."
Kamakshi Tandon is a freelance tennis writer for ESPN.com.
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