Maria Sharapova was a style icon and announced her retirement, fittingly, in Vogue and Vanity Fair. But it was her playing style that really set trends in the sport of tennis.
Ditching the traditional volley like yesterday’s fad, Sharapova’s treatment of choice on short balls was a ferocious swinging volley. Copycats followed suit. Now the traditional volley in women’s singles is a throwback stroke.
When Sharapova started grunting at decibels over 100, so did others.
When she adopted a ritual of turning to the back wall between points, so did others.
When Sharapova needed only Roland Garros to give her the career Grand Slam, she updated her look on clay–changed how she approached it–and captured two French Opens late in her career.
“I felt after her shoulder surgeries she lost a bit on hard and grass with the reduced potency on serve, but on clay she was still elite,” says Shane Liyange, coach and Melbourne-based strategist for Data Driven Sports Analytics.
The long-legged Sharapova famously described herself as a “cow on ice” after a match on clay. She redoubled her work on movement and figured out a way to pull it off.
In particular, after 2011, she started going for more consistency on her first serve. Beginning in 2012, when she won Roland Garros for the first time, she upped her first serve percentage from 61% to a head-turning 77%, according to statistics from the WTA.
In addition, she sought her forehand as her first shot after the serve significantly more after 2011. She took the serve +1 forehand to 63% from 59%. That put her over the top for two French Open titles.
Looking at her head-to-head record against her contemporaries who also won Grand Slams, Sharapova was competitive with–or better than–all but Serena Williams and Justine Henin.
Serena was the puzzle that Sharapova found too tough to solve, perhaps because Williams plays a very similar pounding baseline style–only better.
Here’s a look at Sharapova’s record against some of the other Grand Slam title holders of her era, courtesy of Data Driven Sports Analytics.
While the designers at Nike will always hold Sharapova and her elegant frame as a favorite muse, it was Maria Sharapova’s own ability to fashion new game styles that will set her apart forever.