After approximately five months away from the WTA tour, Maria Sharapova will finally make her return to professional competition on the opening day of the 2014 season, when she makes her debut at the Brisbane International. The Russian will face Caroline Garcia, who she holds a 2-0 head-to-head record over, in the opening round of the tournament.
After being forced to withdraw from last year’s event citing pain in a collarbone from practising at Tennyson, Sharapova will finally get the opportunity to play on the courts in Queensland as she prepares for the start of her 2014 season. The Russian superstar has been sidelined since the Cincinnati Masters with a shoulder injury, missing the US Open in the process, which consequently dropped her to no. 4 in the WTA rankings. Since making her recovery, Sharapova has been training at high intensity in preparation for the upcoming season and has set high expectations for herself following her injury-plagued year.
Apart from her training, Sharapova had also gone through several coaching changes over the past few months. After hiring high-profile coach Jimmy Connors, the short-lived partnership was quickly terminated before the Russian even returned to the courts. She would soon hire Sven Groeneveld, who had worked the likes of Monica Seles, Mary Pierce, Ana Ivanovic and Caroline Wozniacki.
France’s Caroline Garcia is six year’s Sharapova’s junior and will be facing the Russian for the third time in her career. She had a decent year on the tour in 2013, reaching the main draw of all the Grand Slam tournaments for the first time in her career, even reaching the second round of three of the four majors. She ended the year with a 27-27 record on the tour, having been unable to secure a victory since the start of the Asian Swing. While that may be the case, she ended her year 63 spots higher than the prior year at no. 75.
Considering Sharapova was dominant in their prior two encounters on the tour, it is unlikely that this match-up will prove any different. Garcia is yet to take a set off the Russian no. 1 and has never won more than four games in a set against her. Apart from the slight possibility of a rusty Sharapova, it would appear that Garcia will begin her 2014 season with a loss.
Prediction: Maria Sharapova in Straight Sets