Sharapova serves notice of return to the top
AFP, Sunday 2 Jan 2011
Three-time grand slam winner Maria Sharapova takes another step in her bid to regain her former glory when she starts as top seed in the Auckland Classic women's tennis tournament on Monday


It has been a long journey back for the Russian former world number one who slumped as low as 126 during the past two years because of a shoulder injury.

The Auckland tournament, a forerunner to the first slam of the year in Australia, has drawn one of its strongest fields.

In addition to Sharapova, the line up also includes another women's former number one Dinara Safina and a former number two and two-time grand slam winner Svetlana Kuznetsova as well as Yanina Wickmayer, a US Open semi-finalist.

But most interest is on Sharapova who sees regaining her once lethal serve as the key to improving on her current ranking of 18th in the world and has been concentrating on technique as her shoulder improved.

"I've had to change it a few times because of the shoulder and obviously that's not the best case scenario when you're in the middle of your career and you've had a great serve before."

The Russian star is confident she will get back to her best but it may take some time.

"I have come back from an awful lot, something that could have taken me away from the game. I am back on the court, going well and I have to build on it little by little."

Sharapova opens in Auckland against 22-year-old Spaniard Carla Suarez Navarro.

Defending Auckland champion Wickmayer is drawn to play Safina in the first round while Kuznetsova plays unseeded New Zealander Sacha Jones.

Wickmayer, ranked 23 in the world, said Safina, who has slipped to 63rd in the rankings, holds no fears for her.

"Safina is a great champion and had a couple of great years. I think it's the toughest (match) in the draw but I'm really looking forward to it. I think it will be a really good and exciting match," she said.

The Belgian is also not concerned that all the pre-tournament attention has been on the three Russian stars Sharapova, Safina and Kuznetsova.

"I have no problems with that. I'm just here to play my matches, not to be in front of the others."

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