Getting a qualifier was theoretically a good opener Maria Sharapova in Doha as she faced Monica Niculescu in the first round Monday.
But Sharapova lost, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 in a two hour, 38-minute match where, ironically, she showed far more variety than usual.
She had to get down-and-dirty, matching Niculescu forehand slice for forehand slice as the Romanian’s funky game threw her groundstrokes for a loop.
It’s hard to pinpoint what exactly has been missing in Sharapova’s game since her return last April. The fighting spirit is there.
But she’s not dictating as she once did.