James Lawton: Sharapova hits the heights she feared were gone for ever

Russian demolishes Cibulkova and fills the void left by exit of the Williams sisters

Maybe we don't have too much of an option but we should still hear it for – and from – the restored Queen of Wimbledon.

With the Williams sisters heading out of town, the earplugs and the migraine tablets were, when you thought about it, a small enough price for Maria Sharapova's reassertion of the aura and the nerve she brought here as a 17-year-old champion in 2004.

There has been a lot of pain – not least physical – in the intervening years and just two more Grand Slam titles but for a little while yesterday it was as though her share of angst had been packed away in the baggage of Serena and Venus.

Certainly, no one looked more likely to invade the vacuum left by the Californian hoarders of silverware than Sharapova as she bombarded her Slovakian quarter-final opponent Dominika Cibulkova with some ferociously maintained brilliance.

That it was accompanied by the familiar high-decibel shrieks is an issue which will have to await some sane adjudication by the rulers of tennis, but in the meantime the women's game can only murmur its relief that it heads towards the climax of the most prestigious tournament with a figure of authentic intrigue and competitive allure.

Her spectacular demolition of the 22-year-old, who beat her in straight sets on clay just over a month ago, and once ejected her from the quarter-finals of the French Open almost matched the racket in a Formula One pit lane, but if the ears were assaulted the eyes were ravished by some sensational ground shots.

No doubt it helped the consistency of her recently crisis-ridden service game – the product of a shoulder injury so serious it kept her out for 10 months following surgery – that the 60-minute 6-1, 6-1 triumph came under the Centre Court roof. Sharapova, however, was in a mood to create a storm of considerable violence.

Her tennis was some way from perfect. Occasionally startling power and quite exquisite placement gave way to lapses in concentration. But always there was the sense of a player reaching out for some of her old touch and achievement and later her caution was, inevitably, laced with the most thrilling of possibilities.

Yes, she has to be on her guard against the excellent German Sabine Lisicki in Thursday's semi-final, but there was no question about the most uplifting fact. It was that after all the years of dwindling optimism, the terrible realisation that her body – contrary to all appearances – was something less than a perfect machine, she could once again see some of those moments of fulfilment she feared had gone for ever.

Yesterday we saw a powerful hint that the eddies of a life of extremes, stretching from the euphoria of precocious success to the slow drag of disillusionment, from Siberia to Florida, may have left Sharapova in a position to strike once more for the peak of the game – and with a new understanding of the depth of the challenge.

Was she truly back? Maybe, maybe not, but there was the certainty that she had covered so much valuable ground and that perhaps she had served her time on the margins of the game she had threatened so quickly to dominate as well as glamorise.

Sharapova talked about a series of steps, some faulty but others as sure as the ones taken in the Centre Court yesterday. She said: "There were different stages of the process. In the tennis world you always know where the next tournament is going to be. You always have certain goals for when you're going to be ready, where you're going to try to peak, and when you're hoping you're going to be in form.

"During the injury time I was setting a lot of timetables for myself in terms of wanting to be back for this or that tournament and I never really met those goals. That was really frustrating for me because I'm not very patient and I'm very stubborn. That's just a terrible combination when you're going through a difficult injury.

"And then where you are playing, finally, what you need is patience. You have to accept there is probably never going to be a certain point where you say, 'Oh, I'm back'. I mean, I don't have that much self-esteem. I don't think anyone really does."

What she had yesterday in some impressively accumulating abundance was an old sense of her ability to inflict herself at the highest level of the game. There is more work to do, she conceded readily enough, but that did not seem such an imperative when she was raking the diminutive and soon enough overawed Cibulkova with shots of withering precision.

When lapses in the assault came they brought gasps of disappointment because the crowd had been brought so quickly to a heightened point of expectation.

The Williams had gone with their power and their usually welling self-confidence but here was someone to diminish the sense that the level of competition had suddenly crashed.

Sharapova was certainly not inclined to dismiss the evidence of progress, which on this day included no fewer than six service breaks on a player with good reason to approach yesterday's collision with some confidence.

"Yes," said Sharapova, "the return of serve was important today and I was very happy with my serving. I still feel as though I can add a few more miles per hour. But I think that will come with time. On grass, placement is really big – and smart. Now it's good, I've experience of getting into the later stages, but I haven't been in them for a while so the feeling is nice and refreshing."

For Wimbledon the feeling is passionately mutual. In the mayhem of Monday's round of 16 it was as though the place had become inhabited by ghosts. Yesterday someone asked, politely, if she ever felt like the old lady left in the draw. "No," Sharapova said after offering ironic thanks, "I don't feel a few years make that much of a difference."

In the Centre Court, though, the inclination was to disagree. Going back to the future made all the difference in the world.

News
The guide, since withdrawn, used illustrations and text to help people understand the court process (Getty)
newsMinistry of Justice gets law 'terribly wrong' in its guide to courts
News
Bobbi Kristina Brown with her mother Whitney Houston in 2011
people
News
Starting the day with a three-egg omelette could make people more charitable, according to new research
scienceFeed someone a big omelette, and they may give twice as much, thanks to a compound in the eggs
News
Top Gun actor Val Kilmer lost his small claims court battle in Van Nuys with the landlord of his Malibu mansion to get back his deposit after wallpapering over the kitchen cabinets
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
The actress Geraldine McEwan was perhaps best known for playing Agatha Christie's detective, Miss Marple (Rex)
peopleShe won a Bafta in 1991 for her role in Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit
News
newsPatrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
News
Robert Fraser, aka Groovy Bob
peopleA new show honours Robert Fraser, one of the era's forgotten players
Life and Style
Torsten Sherwood's Noook is a simple construction toy for creating mini-architecture
tech
Sport
David Silva celebrates with Sergio Aguero after equalising against Chelsea
footballChelsea 1 Manchester City 1
News
i100
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links