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Tommy Keeler: New era begins for Sharapova

Let’s just get this out there right away — Maria Sharapova is attractive. There’s no denying it. However, Sharapova is much more than just eye candy, and today I believe she begins the second half of her career.

Let's just get this out there right away -- Maria Sharapova is attractive.

There's no denying it. However, Sharapova is much more than just eye candy, and today I believe she begins the second half of her career.

The U.S. Open is underway and Sharapova plays her first-round match today against Jarmila Groth. Sharapova is considered one of the favorites for this year's U.S. Open, especially with Serena Williams out with an injury.

I believe Sharapova needs to win the Open. Tennis needs her to win the Open. She has the game, she has the looks and the personality. Sharapova is a star; after all, she is the highest-paid female athlete in the world.

Sharapova is a player you either love or you hate. She is my favorite player, in case you can't tell which side I'm on.

Those that don't like her contend she isn't nice on the court and she grunts too loudly. Sharapova is a competitor. She's intense when she plays, but off the court she's completely different.

Sharapova generally smiles and laughs during interviews, sometimes even after losses. She's always gracious after a loss, and gives her opponents respect. She's a great role model. She doesn't yell at umpires, and I've never seen her throw her racquet. She's classy in every way.

As far as the loud grunts go, every female player seems to do that these days.

Sharapova is a fighter, she plays hard on every single point. And she never gives up in a match. She also has plenty of confidence.

After losing in the first round of the Australian Open this year, Sharapova shocked the media with her calmness. She understands that it's just a game and life will go on after a loss. However, the reporters kept hounding her with questions about whether she could ever get back to the top and win a major. Her answer is the very reason she's my favorite player. She told them she would be back in an Australian Open final someday. Then with a smile on her face she added, "Just you watch."

If Sharapova can win the U.S. Open this year, as I think she will, it would be very special. She's been through a lot the last two years and there are plenty of doubters out there. And I think she's about to prove them all wrong.

When Sharapova first burst onto the scene, at 17, she won Wimbledon. Not only did she win her first major, but she out-hit Serena Williams, knocking her off the court in the final. Nobody had ever done that to Serena, except her sister.

Immediately the hype began. Sharapova was up and down for the next four years. She won the U.S. Open in 2006 and reached No. 1 a few times, but wasn't able to stay at the top consistently.

In 2008, it appeared Sharapova had finally reached her potential. She won the Australian Open and started the year off 25-1. She was No. 1 in the world. Sharapova was finally beginning to dominate the game. Then she tore her rotator cuff. Sharapova had to have shoulder surgery and was out for almost a year.

When she came back, she struggled with her serve and has been up and down, only getting as high as No. 12 in the rankings.

Of course, she's been criticized in the media, and there are some who still think she's just another pretty face, who will never really achieve true greatness. This summer she started to show the haters they have no clue what they're talking about.

Sharapova reached the fourth round at Wimbledon, giving Serena her toughest match of the tournament. Sharapova had set points in the first set and certainly had her chances to win the match. Sharapova played two tournaments this summer, reaching the final in both. A foot injury kept her out of a third tournament, but she has since recovered and is back at full strength for the Open.

During the summer, she is finally looking like the champion of old. Her serve is becoming a weapon again, and her groundstrokes are as lethal as ever.

Sharapova has only won three grand slams, but I think the second part of her career will be much, much better. She is only 23 and if she can stay healthy, she has a good seven years still left. Sharapova could easily reach double-digits in slams, which would put her in the top 10 all-time -- a place I truly believe she belongs.

If Serena could get healthy again as well, it would be great for the game. Whenever the two play, it's usually high-quality tennis, but they have both been injury-prone throughout their careers.

Sharapova and Serena could take their rivalry to a whole new level in the next few years, and that would be great for the game of tennis.

If Sharapova doesn't win the Open this year, it won't mean she's finished as a top player. However, it would be disappointing considering her play this summer.

I believe she's ready to rise back to the top of the game, and in a little less than two weeks Sharapova will be a champion again. There are sure to be tears of joy on her face. After everything she has been through, there's no doubt this one would be the sweetest of all.

As a fan, I'm excited for the tournament and to see her win again. I truly believe she's back and ready to finally dominate the game. No matter what happens the next two weeks, I'm confident Sharapova will be a champion again and she will get back to the top of the game.

Just you watch. 


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