Maria Sharapova announced Thursday on her Facebook page that she had parted ways with coach Thomas Hogstedt, and while the news comes as a bit of a shock to most, fans of the four-time Grand Slam champion needn’t worry about Sharapova’s future.
Though her relationship with Hogstedt, which yielded a French Open title and a return to the World No. 1 ranking for a spell, was extremely productive, so too was Sharapova’s relationship with Michael Joyce, which ended when Hogstedt officially took over in late 2010.
In other words, Sharapova is a born winner, and while she has benefited from quality coaching relationships in the past, there’s no reason to believe that the parting of ways with Hogstedt will do her game any harm. In fact, I’m willing to bet that if you pulled out the phone book, closed your eyes and picked a name out at random, that person—Tom, Dick, Harry or Mary—could guide Sharapova to a Grand Slam final or two over the next 12 months.
That’s not a dig against Hogstedt (a great coach who has worked with Tommy Haas and Li Na as well as Sharapova), rather, it is praise for Sharapova, one of the purest pugilists in the women’s game. (Sometimes, while watching the intense Russian do battle, one feels like she would win matches without a racquet, let alone without a coach.)
Where the scenario gets interesting is where Sharapova has stumbled of late: at the game’s upper echelon. I doubt that any Tom, Dick, Harry or Mary could help her climb the massive wall that seems to be dividing her and Serena Williams, but then, neither could Hogstedt either.
In fact, the likely scenario is that the Russian, still only 26 years of age and ranked No. 2 in the world, will retain all the knowledge she garnered from Hogstedt and move on to gain new and vital insight from her next coach. Hogstedt seemed to help Sharapova add some patience to her game, and some stability off the ground. Post-shoulder surgery, Sharapova has needed to make up for the lack of a game-changing serve by being able to find other ways to gain advantages in rallies. Sometimes, she needed more patience and better movement to maintain a neutral stance in rallies, and she seemed to find that with Hogstedt.
But clearly where Sharapova and Hogstedt failed as a team was against Serena Williams, and, to a lesser extent, Victoria Azarenka. Is there any shame in that? No. Is it good enough for Sharapova at this stage of her career? Apparently not.
Sharapova won only one of six matches on hard courts against Azarenka during Hogstedt’s tenure, and against Serena Williams she famously has lost 13 in a row, eight of which were under Hogstedt’s watch.
As good as things went during the Russian’s collaboration with Hogstedt, it’s clear that they couldn’t jump the last and biggest hurdles. For a lot of players this would not be a concern, but for a player as driven to succeed as Sharapova, the results against the tour’s two biggest haymakers likely had something to do with the parting of ways.
According to Sharapova, we can expect to find out who that new coach will be in the upcoming days. Likely, that coach will have the pedigree that no Tom, Dick, Harry or Mary could boast.
Hopefully, the new coach will have some sports psychology chops as well as tactical ones. There are things that Sharapova can do to increase her chances against Williams and Azarenka on the court (she could, for instance, serve far better than she currently does just by improving her location and variety), but she’ll also need a dose of hope and a pinch of belief to go with any tactical redress.
As good as Hogstedt was as Sharapova’s coach, in retrospect the decision for the pair to part ways seems like a blessing for Sharapova. She’s made remarkable strides since her shoulder surgery, reaching 18 finals with Hogstedt at the helm, including four Grand Slam finals (winning one), an Olympic final, and a WTA Championships final.
But time and time again, Sharapova has fallen short in the biggest matches against the game’s premier players. Much of it can be blamed on the greatness of Serena Williams and also Victoria Azarenka’s rise, but the time seems ripe for Sharapova to find a fresh voice. Perhaps with that voice will come a new perspective–a true light bulb moment where Sharapova gains some clear insight as to what has held her back.
It would be foolish for her not to try.
Maria Sharapova may be a lot of things, but she ain’t no fool.