Maria Sharapova took her first steps onto Rod Laver Arena in two years on Monday to begin her preparations for what she hopes will be a return to form at the Australian Open.
It cannot have escaped her notice that women’s tennis has entered a new and exciting era, one which the three-time grand slam champion is determined to be part of. The quality of tennis that Henin and Clijsters produced in the memorable final of the Brisbane International at the weekend suggests that the Belgians have pushed raised the bar a few notches.
“I think it’s great that Kim and Justine are back,” said Sharapova, last week, after completing a win over Caroline Wozniacki at an exhibition event in Hong Kong. “Women’s tennis needs them. I love to play against the best, and I’m really thrilled of the possibility to meet them at the court.
Sharapova was forced to miss last year’s Australian Open while she recovered from shoulder surgery. Since then she has not quite hit the heights that saw her win Wimbledon in 2004, the 2006 US Open and the 2008 Australian Open, though she says her desire to keep trying to get back to her former level has not dimmed. “I just love to compete. It makes me keep working to improve my play and to try to become a better performer,” said Sharapova.
The Russian is currently ranked 14 but could climb sharply with a strong showing at the Australian Open because she has no points to defend on the WTA Tour’s rolling 12-month system for the corresponding period this time last year.