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Practice hits: Sharapova bullies juniors

Short of tournament sharpness in the build-up to the Australian Open because of injury, Maria Sharapova has found a novel way of playing herself into form — roughing up local boys. Rising to the challenge | Men's contenders

sports Updated: Jan 13, 2013 01:26 IST

Short of tournament sharpness in the build-up to the Australian Open because of injury, Maria Sharapova has found a novel way of playing herself into form — roughing up local boys.

The Russian has been getting into the groove by beating up on Australia's top young players, having pulled out of Brisbane with a collarbone injury last week.

Sharapova, who said she is now fully recovered, revealed that she had resorted to practising with Australian juniors -- with interesting results.

"One of them was really on top of me and then I got really mad," she told reporters on Saturday. http://www.hindustantimes.com/Images/Popup/2013/1/13_01-pg24a.jpg

"I think he had eight set points and I ended up winning the set. I'm not going to tell who it is. Too embarrassed. I don't think he slept well after that one."

However, the world No 2 said she could play her way into the season's opening Grand Slam, starting against fellow blonde Russian Olga Puchkova, ranked 105.

"I would have loved to come in with a few matches. But sometimes circumstances don't allow that, and that's okay," she said. "To me, I'd rather be going onto the court knowing that I'm healthy. "Yes, I might be a little bit rusty, but I'll work my way through it. I'm experienced enough to know the adjustments I have to make in those types of circumstances."

With all the talk about Serena Williams extending her current streak of major titles to three -- another Serena Slam in the making -- Sharapova has another Williams more on her mind ahead of the Australian Open: Venus.

Venus threat
While Serena and top-seeded and defending champion Victoria Azarenka feature in the top half of the draw, and could meet in the semifinals, No. 2 Sharapova would play Venus Williams in the third round if they each win their first two matches.

Sharapova, who holds a 4-3 match career edge over Venus, including in straight sets on clay at Rome last year, doesn't want to get too far ahead of herself here.

"First of all, we still have to get to that point and then we can discuss it further," Sharapova said on Saturday. "There's no doubt that she's a champion, an experienced one at that. No matter where she's ranked, what level she's at, she's a tough opponent."

Venus Williams' ranking dropped outside the top 100 after a seven-month layoff following the 2011 US Open when she was diagnosed with Sjogren's syndrome, an auto-immune disease that can cause fatigue. But she finished in the quarterfinals or better at five of the 10 events she played in 2012, winning the Luxembourg tournament and improving her ranking to No. 24 by year's end.

Serena Williams was even better, winning Wimbledon, the US Open and London Olympics gold. A win at Melbourne Park would continue the major streak and keep her on track to repeat that Serena Slam she achieved after winning the French, Wimbledon and US Open in 2002 and completing her personal Slam in Australia in 2003. Sharapova said Serena Williams' favouritism here doesn't affect her mindset. "I think everyone reacts to it a little bit differently," Sharapova said. "There's a reason why everyone's in the draw. You can't worry about somebody else that's not even close to you in a certain part of the draw."