Sharapova aiming for wildcard to Australian Open

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Maria Sharapova

Her troublesome right shoulder may never be 100 per cent but former world No.1 Maria Sharapova is convinced she can bounce back to her best ahead of her latest tennis comeback.

The 32-year-old admits she has been frustrated by the ongoing shoulder complaint that has plagued her since serving a doping ban, limiting her to just eight events and 15 matches in 2019.

But the five-time grand slam champion said retirement had never been on her radar as she prepared to launch her 2020 campaign in Queensland, after accepting a wildcard for next month’s Brisbane International.

“To be fair when I was younger I never saw myself playing past 30,” Sharapova said. “But I still feel there is a lot in me to give. I still have a lot of fire in me and I am big competitor.”

“As long as the shoulder stays healthy and my body allows me to I hope there is a lot of time left for me.”

The Russian’s world ranking has plummeted to No.133 due to her injury woes, and she faces arguably the ultimate fitness test at the Brisbane International starting on January 6.

It features a stacked field including Australia’s world No.1 Ashleigh Barty, reigning Australian Open champion Naomi Osaka, defending Brisbane International champ Karolina Pliskova and Venus Williams.

However, Sharapova said she was up for the challenge.

“It’s a fresh start after a tough last season,” said Sharapova, who won her last grand slam in 2014.

“There were a lot of ups and downs, there were times when I was ready but the shoulder wasn’t, but I have had a fairly good off season and I am motivated to compete.”

“At this point in my career when I have that feeling, it’s a good sign.”

Sharapova is also scheduled to play the Kooyong Classic, but admits results in Brisbane may determine whether she gains another wildcard to contest the Australian Open.

“While it is about results for me it is more about how I feel day to day, making sure my shoulder holds up but I am definitely up for that test,” she said.

Sharapova is hopeful of again threatening at the Australian Open, which has been the backdrop for her career’s highs and lows.

She won the grand slam at Melbourne Park in 2008 but at the 2016 Australian Open she tested positive to a banned substance, and was consequently suspended for two years, reduced to 15 months on appeal.

Her immediate focus is on the Brisbane International which will be an exclusively women’s event for the first time in 2020, with the inaugural men’s ATP Cup to run concurrently from January 3.

 

Chidi Nwoke.