TOKYO, (Reuters) – Former world number one Maria Sharapova is once again trying to hit the fur off tennis balls but admits she may no longer be feared.
The Russian said she was grateful for her “second career” after a nightmare injury layoff and insisted she had the tools to return to the top of the women’s game.
“In some way I wish I could say I was vacationing for 10 months and then all of a sudden I kind of wanted to play again,” Sharapova told Reuters in an interview yesterday.
“But every single day I was trying to find a way to get back out there. It’s hard when something is taken away from you. For me it was about three or four months where I really didn’t pick up a racket.
“That was the first time in my life I’ve had to do that since I started playing tennis. It was really strange waking up and knowing you’re not going to go out on the court.”
Sharapova, who has climbed to 25th in the world since returning to action in May after shoulder surgery, defied doctor’s orders to sneak in a bit of practice while convalescing.
“After a month I remember I would just tell my coach I’m going out there and I’m playing left-handed,” she laughed. “The doctor would tell me ‘You can’t move your arm around too much even if you’re not hitting with the right hand.’
“I would have battles with my physiotherapist all the time because I wanted to get out there.
“Finally, when I had the opportunity to play and to start from scratch and just hit half-court for five minutes from the first day, I absolutely realised just how much I missed it.”
The three-times grand slam singles champion said she had reached a different stage in her career.
“It’s obviously like a second career in a way when you’re almost out of the rankings and you’re working your way up and you’re not feared anymore,” she said.
Sharapova battered Australian Samantha Stosur at the Pan Pacific Open yesterday with a 6-0 6-1 win that propelled the former Tokyo champion into the last 16.
Yet to add to her 19 career singles titles since her return, Sharapova insisted she would be a major force again.
“Grand slams are still the focus,” the 22-year-old said in an interview organised by WTA Tour sponsors Sony Ericsson. “I know if I do well and perform at a certain level which I know I can then those goals will be met.
“Being at the top of the rankings is amazing but it’s not always always up, up, up,” she said, adding that she sympathised with the pressure compatriot Dinara Safina was under as the current number one.
“It’s definitely not easy. You’re not expected to lose matches. If you win a match it’s not news. When you lose everyone is at your press conference.
“You’re going to have let-downs. But if you know you’ve made it there once you can always do it again.”
Sharapova was philosophical when asked how close she was to the form that swept her to her first grand slam singles title at Wimbledon in 2004.
“It’s tough to say,” she said. “I was 17, young and healthy. Age does amazing things to you. Hitting balls a million times over does wonders to the body as well.”