Maria Sharapova asked herself where her game was going after a disappointing start to 2011, but winning two titles and returing to a grand slam final for the first time in more than three years has her heading in the right direction going into the Australian Open.
The 24-year-old had shoulder surgery in 2008, which kept her out of the game for nine months and she had struggled to regain the consistency that had earmarked her as a player capable of dominating the game after she won Wimbledon as a 17-year-old.
A new coach, change of racquet and some patchy form in the first half of last year raised more doubts but she felt she turned the corner by reaching the French Open semi-finals then the final at Wimbledon, where she lost to Petra Kvitova.
"I didn't really start the year off on the best note," Sharapova told reporters in Melbourne on Saturday. "I lost here in the fourth round. I got sick playing Paris. Didn't play in Fed Cup.
"It was kind of, 'where is this going?'
"Then all of a sudden things clicked because ultimately when you put in the work, it's going to pay off. Maybe not tomorrow, maybe not in one week, but maybe in many months.
"I think my level was much more consistent than where I saw it at the couple years before that ... following the shoulder surgery.
"It was a big step for me in the right direction."
Sharapova suffered an ankle injury in the year-ending WTA Chamionships, which kept her out of the Brisbane International earlier this month, but she was confident she had recovered.
"It has healed pretty well," she said. "It just didn't heal as fast as I thought it would. But, yeah, it feels good now.
"I've been in Melbourne for some time now. Came here a little bit early (and) I was thinking of maybe playing a tournament the week before (but) just thought it would be good to stay here and train and get ready.
"I wasn't really in a hurry to go and play a tournament when I didn't feel like I had enough practice and all.
"But, it's been really good. The body feels really good."