Healthy Sharapova aiming to make Wimbledon point
Maria Sharapova returns to Wimbledon in June desperate to prove she's still an A-list attraction on the tennis court, as well as off it, and convinced her protracted injury horrors are in the past.
The undisputed poster girl of the women's game, whose recent career has been plagued by shoulder and elbow problems, went out of the French Open to four-time Roland Garros champion Justine Henin on Sunday.
But her three-set defeat on a claycourt surface that suits neither her game nor movement, illustrated that the old power, if not the comfort level, was back as she enjoyed one of her better Paris performances.
"My feelings are that in the last few weeks I've been going out on the court and I've been enjoying playing," said Sharapova.
"This part of the season is one of my favourites, going into the grass. I'll be preparing myself as best as I can, having a training week leading up to my next tournament and then Wimbledon.
"But as long as I'm healthy on the court and I'm working my way towards what I want to improve, which I feel like I've done maybe in the last three weeks since my elbow is feeling better, then I've got a real good shot."
It was at the All England Club in 2004 that the 17-year-old Sharapova enjoyed her breakthrough, announcing herself as a genuine force in the game and sparking a lightning rise into stratospheric earning potential.
But nine months off the tour in 2008 and 2009 with a shoulder injury sent her world ranking plummeting out of the top 100, prompting fears that the party was over.
A shock second-round loss to Giselo Dulko at Wimbledon last summer only served to fuel the doubts.
Despite having battled elbow worries this season, Sharapova still came into Paris buoyed by having captured the Stuttgart claycourt title
"There's a lot of work to do. But this was a good week. It was a long but a solid week," she said.
"I know the things that hurt me a little bit today. I just really want to go out on that court and just work on them a little bit more, because I know that they will help me a little bit more in the future."
Sharapova, who has won Wimbledon, the Australian Open and US Open but has never got beyond the semi-finals in Paris, had her chances on Sunday against Henin.
She was 2-0 ahead in the deciding set and had four break points for a 3-0 lead before the gutsy Belgian battled back to take her place in the last 16.
Sharapova believes the elements helped conspire against her.
The match had been suspended overnight at a set apiece while cold, damp and blustery conditions greeted the pair on their return to Court Philippe Chatrier on Sunday.
"I've been serving much better and my arm has been feeling good. I don't think the conditions really favoured that drive through the ball and the serve as much as it would have been on a warmer day, where it would have gone through the court a bit more," she explained.