Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - Maria Sharapova recently returned to the practice courts ... and has done so with a new coach in tow.
The 26-year-old superstar announced last week that she's now employing the extremely reputable Sven Groeneveld as her new mentor, as the tall Russian looks forward to returning next season after missing basically the last three months of the 2013 WTA campaign while being shelved with shoulder bursitis and a hip injury.
Following a stunning second-round loss against 131st-ranked 20-year-old swashbuckling Portuguese Michelle Larcher de Brito at Wimbledon in late-June, Maria played in only one event in the second half of the year -- the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati in mid-August -- where she also suffered a second- round loss, this time at the hands of promising American Sloane Stephens.
After titling in Stuttgart for a second straight year back in April, the 6- foot-2 Sharapova would appear in only five more tournaments the rest of the year, including a 1-3 record over her final four matches of the season. She lost to current world No. 1 obstacle Serena Williams in a pair of marquee finals, in Madrid in May and at the French Open in June. Maria had been the reigning French Open champ and won her previous 13 matches at the lone clay court major.
Part of the reason that Sharapova hired Groeneveld is that she wants the Dutchman to help her in her recent futile efforts against the mighty Williams, who has won their last 13 matchups, dating all the way back to 2004.
Yes, she hasn't beaten Serena in nine years (and you can make it 10 when 2014 gets underway).
In Groeneveld, the 13-year-pro Sharapova is getting one of the most experienced coaches in the game, as he's previously worked with such WTA stars as former No. 1s Monica Seles, Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario, Ana Ivanovic, and Caroline Wozniacki, as well as former top-five performers Mary Pierce and Mary Joe Fernandez. He's also worked with a bevy of ATP studs, including the great Roger Federer and former top-five German racquet men Michael Stich, Nicolas Kiefer and Tommy Haas.
"It has been a very seamless transition and I have had a lot of fun with the hard work we have put in so far," Sharapova said of her brief stint with Groeneveld. "Looking forward to the year ahead."
The career Grand Slam winner had a fabulous first half in 2013, going 36-5, including titles in Indian Wells and Stuttgart and reaching four straight finals at one point. The former world No. 1 opened the year at No. 2, with Thomas Hogstedt as her coach, but then finished at No. 4, thanks in part to the late inactivity.
Maria canned Hogstedt during the year, and then hired the legendary Jimmy Connors. But her blink-of-an-eye partnership with Connors ended after only one month and one match (the aforementioned loss in Cincy).
The tall, wealthy Russian (who is the highest-paid female athlete on the planet) will open her 2014 season at an Australian Open tune-up late next month in Brisbane, where Serena and fellow former No. 1 Victoria Azarenka are also expected to be on hand.
The Florida resident Maria will actually return to action next week, however, to play an exhibition match against her fellow former world No. 1 Ivanovic in Bogota, Colombia.
So it looks like 'all systems go' right now.
Here's hoping to a return of good form.