The Madrid Masters is just days away, but can Maria Sharapova win the 2013 Mutua Madrid Open?
Sharapova has won every major clay court title with one exception - the WTA Madrid. Entering this year's tournament as the world No. 2, Masha will be hoping that she can emerge from a top quality field and finally clinch her first title in the Spanish capital.
There are several reasons to believe that she can win this event. Firstly, her clay court form has been sensational. For a player who used to make fun of her movement on the red stuff, Sharapova has truly made incredible progress. Her sole clay court defeat in 2012 occurred at the Magic Box, where she was beaten comprehensively by Serena Williams. However, her French Open, Rome and Stuttgart titles made her the WTA's dominant force on clay last season. 2013 has started in a similar manner, with Sharapova adding another Porsche to her collection by defending the Stuttgart title.
Secondly, Sharapova has found some serious consistency. She's not fallen prior to the semi-finals in any event this year, and she's reached the final in three of the five tournaments that she's entered, winning two major titles in the process.
Finally, with shoulder problems no longer holding her back, Sharapova seems to have rediscovered her edge. After losing to Na Li in the semi-finals of the Australian Open, she was able to bite back with a terrific straight sets win against China's No. 1 in Stuttgart. She demonstrated the same kind of spirit last season too by beating Victoria Azarenka in Stuttgart after taking a battering against her in the Australian Open final.
That said, Masha's rivals pose a big threat, The aforementioned challengers, Vika and Li, are both capable of beating the Russian, and they've both proved this on several occasions in the past. Then there's Serena, who's dominated Sharapova over the years. In fact, Serena is currently on an eleven match winning streak against Sharapova, which doesn't exactly bode well. The bottom line is that Sharapova has a chance, but she's more than likely going to have to record at least one victory over her biggest rivals.