Sharapova just happy to be back

Fit-again former champion insists it is too early to talk of winning tournaments

There have been times over the last year when Maria Sharapova might have wondered whether she would ever play here again, but at 1pm this afternoon the 2004 champion will walk on to Court One to play Viktoriya Kutuzova. Sharapova is nowhere near back to her best, but after 10 months out of the game following shoulder surgery she is just happy to be here.

Sharapova's problems were evident last summer when she lost in the second round to a fellow Russian, Alla Kudryavtseva. It was her earliest Grand Slam loss since the US Open in 2003. Her long road back to fitness finally saw her return to the court last month and she enjoyed a good run in the French Open, where she reached the quarter-finals, with Nadia Petrova and Na Li among her victims.

"I feel like last year's Wimbledon didn't really exist for me," Sharapova said. "I only played a couple of matches. The grass season basically didn't exist either. I guess that to be here is already an accomplishment in itself, because when I look back to where I was, say, 10 or 11 months ago, or even three months ago, I'm definitely blessed to be here, especially after playing a few tournaments and getting a few matches on grass already, to be in the field of great players."

However, Sharapova said it was too early for her to start talking about winning tournaments. "I think it's a little too soon to put that in my mind," she said. "I certainly know I'm capable of it, and if I do the right things and play the right way, there's always a little bit of luck involved. Hopefully you take your chances when you have to.

"If I don't let my opponents get back into the matches, finish them off when I have to, then, absolutely, I think I have a great chance, but I will take it one match at a time. This is definitely a time in my career where I can't look into a possible third round, fourth round, semis, whatever."

How far down the line to full fitness does Sharapova think she is? "I think every single tournament right now is still a test. For me it's almost like the beginning of the season, whereas for many players it's already the second half of the season. I'm still testing out where my game is, where my body is, where my shoulder is. It's all a process. It's easy to forget. Unfortunately you get in this regime so fast, playing matches, and you tend to forget where you were only a few months ago."

The return of a fit and competitive Sharapova would be welcomed by almost everyone in the game. The Williams sisters are as formidable as ever, but with Dinara Safina, the world No 1, yet to show she has the mental strength to win a Grand Slam there is a vacuum at the top of the game.

Jelena Jankovic and Ana Ivanovic are still struggling to build on their early promise and the likes of Victoria Azarenka still have to prove they have what it takes to succeed at the very highest level.

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