2006 champion Maria Sharapova begins her 12th US Open campaign against Patty Schnyder, whose presence in the draw is surely one of the stories of the tournament. That’s because the Swiss turns 40 later this year and played her first US Open in 1997. She retired in 2011 only to return to the sport in 2015 and now finds herself back in Grand Slam action. And it is some reintroduction against one of the biggest names in the sport. But who will come out on top?
Sharapova is just one of many players to have held the top spot that Schnyder has defeated. That victory came in the semifinals in Rome in 2005 and was revenge for a Sharapova win the year before in the last four in Birmingham. Unfortunately for Schnyder, she and Sharapova played a further six matches, and the Russian won them all. That included a victory in the Tour Finals, at the French Open and in the final in San Diego. Their last match came a decade ago in Rome.
Last time out
Sharapova has worked hard to rebuild her career after a ban for a failed drugs test and reached her first Major quarterfinal since returning from said ban in Paris. But she was defeated there by Garbine Muguruza and then crashed out in the first round at Wimbledon to her compatriot Vitalia Diatchenko. Her most recent outing was in Montreal where she bested Sesil Karatantcheva of Bulgaria and 12th seed Daria Kasatkina before losing 3-6 2-6 to Caroline Garcia in the third round.
Schnyder’s attempt to reach the main draw at Wimbledon ended in a first-round qualifying defeat to Jessica Pieri. She was next in Tour-level action in Gstaad where she reached the second round, losing there to Sam Stosur. She then entered the qualifying field in Flushing Meadows, beginning with a comeback win over Belgium’s Maryna Zanevska. She again rallied from a set down to defeat Veronika Kudermetova before dismissing Jessica Pegula to become the oldest qualifier in Grand Slam history.
How do they match up?
Sharapova’s game at its best is characterised by clean and powerful hitting from the back of the court and tenacious defence. But at 6’2”, Sharapova cannot equal the court coverage of the likes of Halep, Wozniacki and Stephens and as a result, she is far more comfortable when dictating proceedings. Her forehand is her most effective weapon, but she can do damage with her backhand as well. Her serve can, however, fail her at times and has never recovered from her serious shoulder problems.
She will almost certainly do the majority of the pressing against Schnyder. The 39-year-old’s greatest assets remain her consistency and mobility, and it is upon these that she will rely. She hits her forehand with very heavy topspin, which can leave it short of penetration and depth. Her backhand is a flatter shot and she will need it to work well against Sharapova. Schnyder does have impressive feel and would do well to draw Sharapova forward when she can.
Schnyder’s achievement in qualifying into the main draw is a hugely impressive one and it will surely be a pleasure for the six-time Grand Slam quarterfinalist to be back at one of the sport’s biggest events. But unfortunately, her stay seems certain to be a brief one. She found Sharapova a challenge even when she was in her prime, and now a decade later, the Russian will pose an insurmountable obstacle. Sharapova in straight sets.