Five-time Grand Slam champion and former world number one Maria Sharapova returns to the Bank of the West Classic for the first time since 2011 as she makes her first appearance in a US tournament since the 2015 Miami Open. She would have a tricky first round opener against the home crowd favorite Jennifer Brady, with this being the first ever meeting between these two players in their respective careers.
So far this year: Sharapova
Coming back from a suspension from the sport due to consuming a banned substance, Sharapova has only managed to play three tournaments this year as she was also plagued with injury problems. Making her comeback at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix, she impressively stormed to the semifinals without losing a set, showing some rust in her first round win over Roberta Vinci before putting up a clinical display to defeat compatriot Ekaterina Makarova. Then, she outclassed young rising star Anett Kontaveit in straight sets, before falling to the in-form Kristina Mladenovic in three sets, despite leading by a set and a break.
Falling in the second round of the Mutua Madrid Open to an inspired Eugenie Bouchard, Sharapova’s comeback had its lowest points as she was forced to retire in her match against Mirjana Lucic-Baroni at the Internazionali BNL D’Italia, coupled with the announcement that she was not given any form of wildcard to participate at the French Open on the same day. Originally slated to be part of the Aegon Classic held in Birmingham, the Russian had to announce her withdrawal due to the lingering leg injury which was the reason for her retirement in Rome. This would be Sharapova’s first tournament back after recuperating her injury.
So far this year: Brady
In her first ever Grand Slam main draw appearance, Brady came through the qualifying rounds to reach the second week of the Australian Open after defeating 14th seed Elena Vesnina in the third round, producing one of the most incredible stories of the fortnight. Her spectacular run brought her into the world’s Top 100 for the first time, allowing her to enter most International tournaments on the tour. However, she was unable to follow up her results as she went on a seven-match losing streak in the WTA main draw matches, earning her next win on tour level at the Wimbledon Championships, defeating Danka Kovinic in straight sets.
Brady was close to a huge upset victory over home favorite and dark horse Kristina Mladenovic in the first round of the French Open, opening up a huge lead in the final set before crumbling to the pressure which saw her fall 7-9 in the final set. Returning to the Bank of the West Classic after a disappointing outing last year, Brady would look to cause a huge upset in the first round of this year’s competition.
Unquestionably, Sharapova is the huge favorite in this interesting clash and she has a favorable draw to progress deep in the tournament. She has the more weapons among the two players and has achieved much more in her career. However, Brady is not one to underestimate considering her run to the fourth round in Melbourne earlier this year, even defeating the Russian’s compatriot Elena Vesnina along the way.
Facing one of the best returners in the game, the American would have to be serving at her best if she were to have any chances of creating an upset. She has to be firing on all cylinders; dictating play throughout the rallies and attack Sharapova’s vulnerable second serves. With the Russian just returning from an injury, Brady could move her around the court more often, giving herself time to take the offense.
With this being her first match in over two months, Sharapova’s form is a huge question mark. However, if she were to play some decent tennis, the win should be doable. The Russian returns to a professional hard court tournament for the first time since the 2016 Australian Open, and she looks to get her season going here in Stanford especially with the favorable draw handed to her. The former world number one has to be solid in her groundstrokes to beat the hard-hitting Brady and must be aggressive in her second serve returns for an increased chance to get the win.
Match Prediction: [WC] Maria Sharapova d. Jennifer Brady in straight sets