Sharapova is an aggressive baseliner, with power, depth, and angles on her
forehand and backhand. She is one of the few players on the WTA who uses the
reverse forehand a lot. Instead of using a traditional volley or overhead smash,
she often prefers to hit a powerful swinging volley when approaching the net
or attacking lobs.
Sharapova is thought to have good speed around the court, especially considering
her height. At the beginning of 2008, some observers noted that Sharapova had
developed her game, showing improved movement and footwork and the addition of a
drop shot and sliced backhand to her repertoire of shots. Despite her powerful game, Sharapova's greatest asset is considered to be her mental toughness and competitive spirit, with Nick Bollettieri stating that she is "tough as nails". Hall-of-famer John McEnroe said of Sharapova,
she's one of the best competitors in the history of the sport. Sharapova is
known for on-court grunting, which reached a recorded 101 decibels during a
match at Wimbledon in 2005.
During her second round match in Birmingham in 2003, Sharapova was asked to tone down the level of her grunt after opponent Nathalie Dechy complained to the umpire, with Sharapova's
response saying that her grunting was a natural instinct. Monica Seles
suggested that grunting is involuntary and a part of tennis. When questioned by the media about her grunting, Sharapova
urged the media to just watch the match. Her defensive game has been worked on by her new coach, and this has reflected in her results, making consecutive semi-finals at premier mandatory events on the tour.
Early in her career Sharapova's first and second serves were regarded as
powerful, and she was believed to possess one of the best deliveries on the
Tour. Since the beginning of 2007, however, problems with her shoulder have
reduced the effectiveness of her serve.
The shoulder injury not only resulted in her inconsistent first serves, but also
her hitting high numbers of double faults. Two-time US Open singles champion Tracy Austin believes that Sharapova
often loses confidence in the rest of her game when she experiences problems
with her serve and consequently produces more unforced errors and generally
plays more tentatively, while tennis writer Joel Drucker remarked that her serve
was the catalyst for her entire game, and that her struggles with it left her
In her return from layoff in 2008 to 2009, she used an abbreviated motion, which was somewhat less powerful, and though producing aces also gave a very high number of double faults. After her early loss at the 2009 US Open, Sharapova
returned to a more elongated motion, similar to her pre-surgery serve. She has
since been able to produce speeds greater than before, including a 121 mph serve
hit at the Birmingham tournament in 2010 – the fastest serve of her career.
However since her shoulder operation Sharapova has been unable to control her
serve. This has led to numerous faults, as she can't feel how much power she is
generating. The new action led to an elbow injury, but under Thomas Hogstedt it
has improved but can still be erratic.
Because she predicates her game on power, Sharapova's preferred surfaces are the fast-playing hard and grass courts, as evident through her 24 victories on hard court and grass court. This is most notable when she won the 2004 Wimbledon, 2006 U.S. Open and 2008 Australian Open crowns, where she had her career breakthrough and played her peak tennis level, respectively.
Sharapova, however, is not as well-suited to the slower clay courts as she is on hard and grass courts.
Sharapova has admitted that she is not as comfortable with her movement on clay
compared with other court surfaces and once described herself as like a cow on
ice after a match on clay, due to her inability to slide. Despite this, she has shown improvement on this surface with respect to experience, as evident with her first WTA red clay title at the 2010 Internationaux de Strasbourg, 7 years since playing on the WTA circuit.
Less than a year later, she won her biggest red clay title at the Tier I 2011 Internazionali BNL d'Italia. Sharapova is still showing rapid improvement on clay courts as evident by winning the 2012 Porsche Tennis Grand Prix in Stuttgart and then a month later successfully defending her 2011 title in Rome, by winning the 2012 Internazionali BNL d'Italia, and then winning the 2012 French Open, her best clay court season to date with a win/loss record of 19–1, with a total loss of four sets the entire clay court season.
Ground strokes and net-play
Sharapova is also known for her phenomenally accurate and powerful groundstrokes. She has a powerful forehand which tends to set up points and create successful winners. Sharapova occasionally utilizes a reverse follow-through on her forehand, similar to that of Lindsay Davenport and Rafael Nadal,
which allows her to hit the ball later than normal and add top-spin, while it
can also lead to timing issues resulting in errors.
The backhand, although not as dominant in setting points up, is her more
reliable shot with many tennis analysts considering this to be her best asset, and one of tennis' great shots. Her net play is good when on the attack, often she will choose to drive the volley instead of slice volleys, but this is not seen as a strength—this seems to be continually worked on.