Maria Sharapova will bid for only her second match win at a grand slam in more than half a year as the former champion begins play at the Australian Open after finally healing a shoulder injury.
The world number, three who lifted the title at Melbourne Park in 2008, has not played at a major since losing in the Wimbledon second round to Michelle Larcher Del Brito but complaining of the shoulder injury which eventually kept her out of the game until a return this month in Brisbane.
But the highest-earning woman in the sport is ready to soldier on and eager to get started after her long layoff and rehab. Along the way she changed coaches, replacing Thomas Hogstedt with Sven Groenveld.
“I’m happy to be back playing a Grand Slam,” Sharapova said in the run-up to Monday’s start of the Open. “I missed the last one (US Open) at the end of last year. I’m happy to get myself back in form and really start well here.” The 26-year-old LA-based Russian, who will cover her hometown Sochi Olympics for a television network, said that weeks of training could pay off for her at Melbourne Park.
“When you’re training, you train really hard. You always expect really good things from the beginning. But you obviously have to lower your expectations a little bit and be a bit realistic about maybe the first few matches.
“You have to grind, work through them, hope to get better as the tournament goes on.” Sharapova will start in the first round against a tough customer in quirky Bethanie Mattak-Sands who often plays with blue hair, piercings and tattoos.
The number 48 will be on a comeback mission of her own after lasting less than a set in the Sydney second round before withdrawing lower back pain.
But Sharapova is wise enough to be aware. “There’s no easy opponent in this tournament, no matter what round you’re playing,” she said.
“She played some really good tennis, I’ve had tough matches against her in the past as I have against many players. It’s just about being ready, not really worrying about so much what’s on the other side, but taking care of your own business out there.” Top seed Serena Williams, the woman to beat after dominating in 2013, with her quarter-final loss in Melbourne a year ago to Sloane Stephens one of the few blots on her record, will begin with Australian teenager Ashleigh Barty, ranked 153.
“I saw her play a little bit at Brisbane, I was actually super impressed with her game,” said Williams. “I thought she was a really, really great player.
“It will be a great opportunity for us both. I take every match as it comes and see how it goes. I try not to put too much pressure on myself.”