Japanese influence gives Sharapova French Open boost

07 June 2012 06:16

Maria Sharapova believes the inspiration of a Japanese trainer can propel her to a first French Open title, a career Grand Slam and a return to the world number one spot.

The Russian world number two, who takes on Czech fourth seed Petra Kvitova in Thursday's semi-finals at Roland Garros, has credited Yutaka Nakamura for helping boost her claycourt confidence and comfort.

"I work with a Japanese trainer that I've known for a long time, a physical trainer from Florida. He was in Australia for a few years and now he came back to the States, so I started working with him in the off-season a little bit here and there," said Sharapova.

"I'll see him again after here. It's been nice to have him."

Nakamura, says Sharapova, has helped tweak the way she moves on clay, always a test for a woman standing at an imposing 1.88m.

"There are a few different movements on clay with the sliding and the recovering and getting back into the point which you work on, but I think it's just a general sense of movement."

Sharapova, now in her third Roland Garros semi-final, once famously compared her movement on clay to that of a cow on ice.

But she has steadily improved on the surface as titles in Stuttgart and Rome in the run-up to the French Open illustrate.

She cruised through her first three rounds in Paris for the loss of five games before needing three error-plagued sets to see off Klara Zakopalova in the fourth round.

The second seed then made the semi-finals with a routine straight sets win over Estonia's Kaia Kanepi on Wednesday.

But Sharapova realises she is for a big-hitting tussle with Kvitova on Thursday as the pair meet at a Grand Slam for the third time in less than a year.

Kvitova blasted Sharapova off court to win a maiden Wimbledon title last July before Sharapova earned her revenge with victory in the semi-finals at the Australian Open in January.

She also gained a straight sets triumph over the Czech in the semi-finals on clay in Stuttgart, a key Paris warm-up tournament.

"She's an extremely tough opponent, someone that I have had good success in our last couple of previous meetings, but they are always tough matches," said Sharapova, who also reached this stage at Roland Garros in 2007 and 2011.

"The last one in Stuttgart was a tough two setter for me. She had opportunities in that second set to win it, so yeah, she seems to be playing really well. When she's confident, when she's hitting the ball, she's quite dangerous."

Kvitova has reached the semi-finals for the first time without having to face a seeded player.

On Wednesday, she came from a set down to defeat Kazakh qualifier Yaroslava Shvedova who had put out defending champion Li Na in the fourth round.

Kvitova said she is expecting to face a fired-up Sharapova.

"I played against Maria (before) and they are always tough matches. We have good rallies. I hope it will be the same tomorrow," she said.

Thursday's other semi-final sees Australian sixth seed Samantha Stosur taking on pint-sized Italian Sara Errani.

Stosur, the US Open champion and runner-up in Paris in 2010 to another Italian, Francesca Schiavone, starts the semi-final against 21st seed Errani as overwhelming favourite, holding a 5-0 career lead.

But Errani has punched above her weight at Roland Garros, reaching a maiden Grand Slam semi-final, knocking out former champions Ana Ivanovic and Svetlana Kuznetsova along the way.

Stosur, at 1.72m and 65kg, goes into the match with an eight-centimetre height advantage and packing the muscular power of an extra five kilos.

"I guess when your opponent is a little bit shorter, it's a little bit easier for me to try and use the serve and forehand up high," said the Australian.

"When you are that height, they are used to hitting the balls up there too. So it can help, but they are also going to be used to it. You have to have a plan B in the back of your head."

No Australian woman has won the French Open since Margaret Court in 1973.

Source: AFP