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Empress Maria has grand slam designs

sports Updated: Jan 22, 2011 11:23 IST

Like an Empress bestowing gifts on her subjects, Maria Sharapova clothes several of the players she rather less mercifully blows off the world's tennis courts.

The Russian tsarina said at the Australian Open that, despite branching out into fashion design, her hunger for the sport was undiminished.

"I'm not in a place in my career where I need to prove something, to the outside, to myself," Sharapova, the world's richest-paid sportswoman, said in an interview.

"I've done that numerous times with grand slams and being number one in the world," added the 23-year-old, a huge diamond ring glittering on her finger.

"But bottom line: I play because I really love it. I had so many opportunities to think that I didn't."

Sharapova, a three-times grand slam singles champion and Melbourne winner in 2008, underwent shoulder surgery later that year and is still looking to rediscover her best form.

She knocked out one of her 'models' in German pin-up Julia Goerges in the third round of the year's first grand slam to set up a meeting with another German, Andrea Petkovic.

"I hope Julia still wears (my clothes)!" said Sharapova with a laugh after a patchy 4-6 6-4 6-4 victory.

"A year and a half ago when we sat down with Nike and discussed who was going to wear my collection she was one of the girls we were really interested in," she added, lighting up on the subject of fashion.

"We knew that some day she would start winning a lot of matches."

Sharapova insisted, however, she never caught herself checking out her own designs during matches.

"You don't think about it when you're playing," she said, screwing up her nose. "It's really cool thinking about it when you're designing.

"I don't think you'll ever see me do that (complimenting opponents for wearing her designs) but maybe after the match!

"It's really cool, it's great to see the other girls wanting to wear it and giving you compliments about it."

In her day job, Sharapova has biffed and grunted her way to grand slam titles at Wimbledon (2004) and the U.S. Open (2006) as well as Melbourne three years ago.

Only a French Open crown stands between her and a career grand slam.

"The French is always a motivation, ever since I won the Australian Open and knowing it's the one I haven't won," said Sharapova, earings dangling almost to the top of a red T-shirt.

"I don't know if I've been fortunate that I haven't won three of one grand slam, but absolutely I've found the French to be my biggest challenge.

"Even though I grew up playing a lot on the clay in juniors, it was never one of my favourites.

"But I feel as the years go on I'm physically much fitter than I was a few years ago and I can be a competitor if I play the right way."

For now, Sharapova has designs on a second Australian Open title.

"Absolutely," she nodded when asked if a fourth major success would be the sweetest.

"If I'm able to win a grand slam after what I went through with my shoulder it would certainly be the biggest achievement in my career."