Maria Sharapova has announced that she's hiring Sven Groeneveld as her new coach to start the 2014 season. Groeneveld, who was previously a consultant and coach at the Adidas Player Development Program, has coached Monica Seles, Mary Pierce and Ana Ivanovic to Grand Slam titles. He left Adidas at the end of the season.
"I'm happy to announce my official partnership with Sven Groeneveld," Sharapova wrote on Facebook. "We've been working together since I got back on the court, and after seeing him on the opposing side for so many years, I'm excited to have him become a part of my team. 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. Looking forward to the year ahead."
While this is a high-profile hire for Sharapova, this is also a significant step for Groeneveld. His eight-year stint with Adidas yielded only one Grand Slam title -- Ivanovic's French Open victory in 2008. For the last few years of his tenure he heavily consulted for Caroline Wozniacki, helping her hold the No. 1 ranking for more than a year and reach her only Grand Slam final, at the 2009 U.S. Open.
Groeneveld faces three main challenges coaching the fourth-ranked Sharapova. First and foremost, Sharapova needs to manage her right shoulder bursitis, which forced her to withdraw from the 2013 U.S. Open and effectively shut down the remainder of her season. Sharapova, 26, underwent shoulder surgery in 2008, and it took her years to retool her game and earn her fourth Grand Slam victory, at the 2012 French Open, under former coach Thomas Hogstedt.
Second, Groeneveld needs to help Sharapova return to her pre-injury level of play after such a long layoff. It wasn't that long ago that Sharapova put together a run of four straight finals, winning titles in Indian Wells and Stuttgart and finishing runner-up to Serena Williams in Miami and Madrid. Injury aside, Sharapova's consistency has been the hallmark of her past two seasons and it helped her briefly recapture the No. 1 ranking last season.
Last and surely not least is the Serena Problem. Sharapova still hasn't beaten the American since 2004, losing their last 13 meetings. In the last two years alone, she has lost to Williams in the semifinals or finals of an event seven times, including in the final of the French Open, the Olympics and the WTA Championships. Sharapova has made no secret that she plays for the big titles, and if she can't get past Williams, those big titles will be few and far between.