Maria Sharapova has been slowly working her way back up the WTA rankings over the past year following her return from suspension and enters Wimbledon as the 24th seed. The former world #1 and five-time Grand Slam champion faces compatriot Vitalia Diatchenko in the first round at the All England Club, a player who currently finds herself well outside the top 100. Unsurprisingly, Sharapova will head in as the strong favourite.
These two have met just once on the WTA Tour, and that occasion was also at one of the Majors; the second round of Roland Garros, back in 2015. Sharapova, the world #4 at the time, took the win with relative ease, dominating virtually every aspect of the match to win 6-3 6-1. Diatchenko’s match was riddled with unforced errors - she committed 26 compared to 18 winners - while Sharapova was clinical, striking 24 winners compared with just eight unforced errors.
Last time out
Sharapova is yet to kick off her grass court season, but she is coming off a solid period of play on clay which has enabled her to earn a seeding at Wimbledon. Her last tournament was Roland Garros, where she won through to the quarterfinals although she was crushed there by world #3 Garbine Muguruza, suggesting she is still some way short of her absolute best. Prior to that, she made the semifinals in Rome and quarterfinals in Madrid.
Diatchenko’s last match saw her retire one game away from a loss in the qualifiers at Mallorca. Though that was a disappointing result, she had a solid win a week earlier in Manchester when she beat Jennifer Brady in three sets. Unfortunately, she followed that up with a straight sets loss to world #172 Marie Bouzkova though, meaning her start to the grass court season has been indifferent at best.
How do they match up?
Sharapova, standing at 188cm, has a powerful all-round game, particularly from the baseline. When she first arrived on the Tour her serve was regarded as a strength, but persistent shoulder problems have seen that diminish. Fortunately, the rest of her game has enabled her to remain a force on Tour, and the speed of her groundstrokes and her quality at the net make her a tough prospect for any opponent on a grass court.
Diatchenko also boasts an aggressive game from the baseline, though it’s unlikely she’ll be able to match her more highly fancied countrywoman for power. Though she is generally able to hold her own against the bigger hitters on Tour, she will likely spend large periods of the match defending from beyond the baseline. Diatchenko will also need to control her own power, something she has struggled with throughout her career. Too many unforced errors will certainly cost her this match.
It’s difficult to see Sharapova being particularly troubled by this match up. She has the advantage in virtually every facet of the game, and appears to have recaptured some good form coming into the tournament. Diatchenko will play an aggressive game style in an attempt to nullify Sharapova’s power, but the 24th seed will be too strong, and will walk away from this match a straight sets winner for the second time in their head-to-head.