BIRMINGHAM, England: Maria Sharapova has decided not to compete on grass before Wimbledon for the first time in her career, opting out of playing her usual warm-up tournament in England.
Sharapova is hoping to avoid any injury concerns and will prepare at her home in Florida rather than compete in the DFS Classic that starts Monday in Birmingham. Sharapova has been a mainstay at the tournament for the last five years, winning it twice including in 2004 when she went on to win Wimbledon.
She is also foregoing another grass-court warmup at Eastbourne the following week, choosing instead to copy the Williams sisters' tournament-free pre-Wimbledon schedule.
Sharapova has said she will aim for an easier schedule this year, after struggling with shoulder and pectoral muscle problems last year, which kept her sidelined for nearly two months after the U.S. Open in September.
"That was one of the toughest times of my career because I had to deal with things that were completely new to me," Sharapova said in a recent interview. "You know, being told by doctors that I can't go out and perform, it's kind of like a 'Stop' sign and it was terrible."
Sharapova was upset by Dinara Safina in the fourth round of the French Open and will lose her No. 1 ranking to Ana Ivanovic next week. The Russian 21-year-old inherited the top ranking after Justine Henin surprisingly retired last month.
Sharapova considers Wimbledon her favorite tournament, and is looking to bounce back from missing out once again on the French Open title the only Grand Slam she has not won.
But she said she is willing to make large sacrifices this year to protect her long-term health.
"I've got to kind of stand up and make some mature decisions that will help me throughout my career," she said.
So far, she has been true to her word, putting her health ahead of financial considerations.
By withdrawing from the Dubai Open in February the week after winning the Qatar Open in Doha Sharapova denied herself what is said to be the tour's most generous appearance money. And by pulling out of the Sony Ericsson Open in March, citing her troublesome shoulder, she earned a US$125,000 (80,000) fine from the WTA.
Sharapova also risked a US$300,000 (193,000) fine for refusing to perform a four-hour photo-shoot at the Italian Open in Rome last month, saying that it was "totally draining," and asked for support from readers on her Web site.
In the end a compromise on a 90-minute session was reached, but only after she said she was prepared to publicly criticize the WTA.
Sharapova also acknowledged earlier this year that she gets sick after many Grand Slams, succumbing to viruses when the post-tournament drop in adrenaline no longer protects her body from fatigue.
Still, she remains the favorite to win Wimbledon, according to British bookmakers. The latest odds have Sharapova at 9-4 to win the title, while Serena Williams is 11-4 and Venus Williams 5-1.