Sharapova Sliced Up by Niculescu 1st Rd. at WTA Doha — What of Maria?

by Jeremy Davis | February 12th, 2018, 5:19 pm

At 30 years old, Maria Sharapova is finding her comebacks in tennis to be all the tougher.

Slated as a second-round opponent for world No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki this week at the Qatar Total Open in Doha, Sharapova was instead shuttled out in the first round by No. 92-ranked qualifier Monica Niculescu.

It was the first meeting between Sharapova and the unorthodox Niculescu, who primarily slices her shots off both the forehand and backhand sides. The low slices and variety was too much for the former No. 1-ranked Russian, who won the first set before falling 4-6, 6-4, 6-3.

“I thought I did a really good job in the first set and a half, but that’s obviously not enough to win the match,” Sharapova said. “I did a good job of winning the longer rallies, even though that’s not really what I wanted to get myself into. So physically I felt good. I just got pretty passive in the end and starting making too many errors…I think I have to look at the tape and see why I started going back behind the baseline and not moving forward, not putting the pace on her.”
The Romanian 30-year-old Niculescu twice trailed by a set and a break before breaking at love to force a third set, then winning 12 of the final 13 points.

“I love it how I play and I like to be unique, and I think my slice forehand is a weapon,” she said afterwards. “And when I feel good on the court, then I play relaxed, I can be good and can be dangerous…The key was when I could understand her game and what she’s doing a little bit because I had no rhythm and I’m guessing she also didn’t have rhythm because I’m playing strange. With the slice I stepped in and I played a bit deeper, but I’m happy that I could get through.”

Niculescu hit 12 winners to 17 unforced errors, converting six of seven break point opportunities, while a frustrated Sharapova sprayed 52 unforced errors to 31 winners.

“I think those two matches in qualies helped me a lot,” Niculescu said. “I knew a little bit about the surface and the conditions — it’s a bit windy. I’m happy that I could get through. It was a tough match, and to beat Maria first round here in Doha Centre Court was good match, in three hours too.”

Sharapova, who sat out much of last year after a drug doping ban, has talked the talk since returning to the WTA tour but has failed to walk the walk of a champion.

Last year she was 16-7 on tour, winning one title at the small Tianjin event, and losing in the first round in her last event of the year at Moscow.

This year she has a 5-3 win-loss record. At the Australian Open she won two rounds before facing No. 21 seed Angie Kerber, prior to the match saying she looked forward to playing former Slam winners to gauge her level. She was pounded by Kerber 6-1, 6-3. In her next tournament at Shenzhen she fell to No. 6 seed Katerina Siniakova in the semis, and now the first-round loss in Doha.

For both Sharapova and Serena Williams, it seems the first six months of 2018 will see if they can still contend for Slams at the French and Wimbledon, or if the skills sets have peaked for the 30-somethings.

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19 Comments for Sharapova Sliced Up by Niculescu 1st Rd. at WTA Doha — What of Maria?

Willow Says:

Since returning fro her ban, shes not been the same player, sure the fight and the heart are still there, but the WTA has moved on, and the players that once were, are not as intimidated by her now, i could be wrong as you can never write of one of the greatest fighters and champions in tennis, but i think shes had her day, having said that she has played well over the years on clay, and maybe she will put in a great showing leading upto the FO, time will tell though i suppose ….

Willow Says:

From ….

Humble Rafa Says:

Shreikapova still looks good, good looks bring money. She has a pretty face. All those are attributes of a good tennis player. There is no need to win.

rognadfan Says:

Damn! saw a headline earlier but never bothered to read. Didn’t think that was such a success story!
Internet rules.

StarvingActor Says:

After long breaks Maria has taken a long time to get back. See her comeback from shoulder surgery in 2008-09

I don’t think the game has passed her by in any shape or form. Watching the matches at AO on the women’s side – as thrilling as some of them were – affirm that. Barring serious injury, I say she gets back to the top-5 level in a year.

I also think the negativity that has come from other players – justified or not – has weighed on her. I think as loathe as she is to admit it, she still wants to be liked and respected. I think she learns and grows from that experience too.

rognadfan Says:

I sure hope she does come back to top form. But even with that, I feel like french open is the least likely slam that she wins, IMHO.
Besides that, hard and grass, she can still get back to winning. No question about that.

Humble Rafa Says:

Has anyone seen Asia man 1 and Asia man 2?

StarvingActor Says:

@rognadfan – why do you think FO is the least likely one? Her results in the last 5-7 years has been better on clay vs grass, right?

Willow Says:

Starving Actor thats what i thought, its her most successful GS over the years ….

t4t Says:

I think Sharapova is affected by the hate expressed by other players. The mental aspect is a big part of a player’s performance. Hope she can overcome and prevail. As for why rognadfan “thinks” that FO is least likely…do Fed fans think?

fred stone Says:

Not my cup of tea, but YouTube is live-streaming the ladies in Qatar:

Humble Rafa Says:

If hate affects players is true, I wouldn’t be where I am. I have to deal with crazy characters including cat owners everyday, yet I go out and get the job done every day. In fact, these haters inspire me.

Dear Too Cute To Get A Real Name:
Are you Shreikapova’s paid excuse generator?

rognadfan Says:

HR, You kidding me?
If hate from people at TX would be affecting play, t4t”s hate alone will have killed Fed long time ago because, he/she/they don’t have anything to do with tennis or any other player. It’s pure jealousy and hate towards Fed pluts gaining a sense of bravery and pride within that tiny brain that he/she/they was able to harrass other posters on this site.

skeezer Says:

^Nailed it!πŸ‘

t4t Says:

Looks like rognadfan has also become my fan. Welcome, my fan. However you will have to wait for your membership ID. You guys can count only till 20 and all those numbers are already taken. Skeezer has #1 (t1t) and madmax has chosen #20 (t20t) and the other early bird fans have chosen 2 to 19. So you will have to wait with the remaining fans. As soon as Fed wins #21 ( which will be soon given that he is Count Dracula), lots would be drawn to determine the lucky winner of that number. Good luck!

rognadfan Says:

Well, that’s the sole reason you come to this site. ‘Self appointed celebrity notorious’ with the brain of a dung-beetle. All you know is to roll a ball of sh*t bigger than your own size. That’s heck of a tactic to deal with extreme jealousy of Fed winning and doing well; turn the hate towards everyone else, including the fans of the player you claim to support. That’s relatively good because it’s on the internet, no one knows you, you can be as bullish or as stupid as you can be while remaining anonymous (you think). But I hope this will help prevent you from to hurt the ones that actually physically near you.

skeezer Says:

Re: 12:07 post
Am NO fan of yours, so quit posting that lying crap. You’re just a abnoxious jealous child clown and eveyone here knows it.

t4t Says:

my my my, poor rognadfan, watch out, you might burst a few blood vessels…. By the way, I have not claimed to support any player….You made it up…
You claim you are a fan of Nadal…..Are you?


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