Metro-east native Connors is out as coach of Maria Sharapova

New York TimesAugust 17, 2013 

— One of the unlikeliest coach-player pairings in tennis history has ended after just one month - and one match.

Four-time Grand Slam title winner Maria Sharapova, 26, announced that she had hired eight-time Grand Slam champion and metro-east native Jimmy Connors, 60, as her coach July 13.

But after losing her first match under his tutelage Tuesday, Sharapova ended the partnership Thursday.

Sharapova lost in three sets Tuesday to 17th-ranked Sloane Stephens, 2-6, 7-6 (5), 6-3, a difficult draw for her first match since Wimbledon.

"I am really excited about our new partnership and looking forward to the upcoming tournaments," Sharapova had said in a statement on her website when the hiring was announced. But the partnership did not last long enough to satisfy the plural.

"It's not the right fit at this time in her career," Max Eisenbud, Sharapova's agent, said in a statement.

Sharapova lost in three sets Tuesday to 17th-ranked Sloane Stephens, 2-6, 7-6 (5), 6-3, a difficult draw for her first match since Wimbledon.

Sharapova had announced that she was parting with Thomas Hogstedt, who had been her coach since 2011, after she lost in the second round of Wimbledon to the qualifier Michelle Larcher de Brito.

But after hiring Connors, Sharapova was forced out of tournaments in Stanford, Calif., and Toronto due a hip injury she sustained during the loss at Wimbledon. Only able to return to competition at this week's Western & Southern Open outside Cincinnati, the loss to Stephens will have been her only match on hardcourts in the build-up to the U.S. Open.

Sharapova appeared in control of the match early on, leading Stephens, 6-2, 2-0, before the 20-year-old American gained a foothold in the match. As momentum swung Stephens' way, Sharapova frequently looked with concern toward Connors between points, and Connors shouted encouragements like "Keep working!" and "Attagirl, come on!"

Sharapova had said in her pre-tournament roundtable interview that Connors' appeal to her as a coach was because of his work ethic and experience.

"I wasn't looking for somebody to come in and change things in my game drastically, especially at 26 years old," she said. "It's not really what I was looking for. It was more the understanding, the knowledge, and as I said, someone that is going to motivate me and push me at the right times, and when I need it."

She added: "I mean, I've achieved a lot on court, but at the end of the day, he doesn't really care what I've achieved. He wants me to be better and greater, and he's not going to tell me that I'm good, he's not going to give me that compliment. He's going to make me work hard and get the best out of me on the practice court, which eventually will be out on the court when I play my matches."

After her loss to Stephens, Sharapova said the coaching change had not been a factor in her loss.

"I didn't lose today because I didn't implement what we were working on," she said. "The things that we're working on, I think, are to improve with the game I have. So, obviously, it's tough to lose at this stage, but just got to keep working hard and keep moving forward."

"Every good round starts with a bogey," Connors tweeted after the loss. "Not the start we wanted, so back to work tomorrow."

On Thursday Connors tweeted: "Back home in SB -- family, pups, and home cooking. Oh -- I forgot, and a vodka on the rocks."

Sharapova will go into the U.S. Open as a coachless No. 3 seed, unless she finds a replacement in the next 10 days.

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