Maria Sharapova withdrew from the TEB BNP Paribas WTA Championships in Istanbul after suffering her second loss in the round-robin event, this time to Li Na in straight sets. That closes the book on 2011 for the Russian superstar, and by most accounts, it was a successful one. Now the question is can that good form continue, and can she get back to her Grand Slam-winning ways in 2012?
Sharapova returned to the top five in the rankings in 2011 and made the finals of a Grand Slam for the first time since 2008, when she won the Australian Open. Her past few years have been injury-plagued. Shoulder injuries, which have been a recurring problem throughout her career, didn't slow her down in 2011, and she played solidly on all surfaces over the season, reaching the semifinals of the French Open, and the finals at Wimbledon.
She entered the Istanbul event with a legitimate chance of recapturing the No. 1 ranking from current holder Caroline Wozniacki. To say that would have been an impressive feat would be an understatement, considering how much she's had to dig deep in recent times.
Even though she failed to recapture the top spot, the experience she gained could serve her well in 2012, especially when it comes to playing the Majors. Both times she advanced deep in the Slams this year, it was expected that her experience would help her win those matches, particularly against less—tested opponents. But the women's game is in a complete state of unpredictability right now, so what might look good on paper won't always be the case. If Li Na, Petra Kvitova and Samantha Stosur are winning Major tournaments, why can't a future Hall of Famer in the prime of her career do so?
Provided she stays healthy, 2012 can be Sharapova's year. 2011 almost was, and getting that close to the top again will only spur her forward.