Jun 18th, 2011, 04:59 PM
Join Date: Jan 2010
Re: ** Masha News and Articles! ** Vol. 2
Sharapova hoping to savour her biggest triumph
For Maria Sharapova, winning this year's title at Wimbledon will mean more to her than the three Grand Slam titles she has already collected.
Speaking on the eve of her ninth campaign at the All England Club, the Russian says she will appreciate the feat of winning a major that much more, given her well-documented struggles with a chronic shoulder injury. "If I do achieve that, if it's here, if it's somewhere else, I think it would be my biggest achievement in my career," she says.
"Before the injury everything was kind of moving up … You just naturally woke up, you went to practise, and then all of a sudden one day it was kind of taken away from you.
"So you kind of have to step back and look at things from a different angle. And then when you get back there, you basically start from zero. You try to get yourself to a level where you can compete with the top players, beating them day in, day out. Yeah, it's a long process."
The world No.6 is many people's pick for the title, despite not having won a Grand Slam in three-and-a-half years. With the Williams sisters an unknown quantity following lengthy absences, Kim Clijsters missing from the tournament and top seed Caroline Wozniacki failing to play up to her No.1 ranking, 2004 Wimbledon Champion Sharapova finds herself a hot favourite thanks to her big-match experience and a game tailor-made for grass.
But she is quick to quash discussion of favouritism. "I think we have to treat each match as if it's the final of the tournament, and you can't underestimate your opponent at any point. I think it's really important to just focus on your next one," she says. "I've never really been one to name favourites. It's not really been my job. I think that's more the media's job than anyone else's."
Interestingly for a fast-court player and a former Wimbledon winner, Sharapova has played her way back into form this year on clay, winning the Premier-level title in Rome and reaching the semi-finals at Roland Garros. It has bolstered her confidence heading into The Championships.
"I'm improving my tennis. I'm playing a lot better," she says. "I played a lot of matches on clay, which I really wanted to do. I always feel like one of the reasons I love the transition is because I feel like you learn so much about the game when you're on the clay courts. You think a little bit more constructing the points and all those things. I played a few tough three setters. But it's always good, like I said, to get back on the grass."
It's hard to believe her Wimbledon success came seven years ago. After all, she's just 24. But after following up her 2004 victory with runs to the semi-finals in 2005 and 2006, Sharapova has failed to pass the fourth round since.
Not that she's let her poor recent record tarnish the memories of her improbable victory over Serena Williams as a 17-year-old. "I think the fact that no matter what I achieve or how I do here, that when I retire from my career, I know that I was a very small part of Wimbledon's history," she says.
"You know, it's incredible to be part of the tradition and all the champions. Hopefully I can repeat that. That would be a dream of mine. But I have only the best memories from here."
Even though she could have side-stepped the exhaustive rehabilitation process and retired comfortably with her three major trophies and millions of dollars, Sharapova believes she can add to that bank of happy memories.
"I think I had many opportunities in my time to say that I've had enough or that I've achieved plenty, more than I ever thought I would, that I have all these accomplishments, but yet I still felt like there was something missing. I still felt like there was a lot more inside of me when I wanted to play," she reveals.
"When I was injured, I did many things. I worked on many projects, I spent holidays with friends and family. But at the end of the day, those didn't mean anything compared to what it means to win tennis matches."
If she wins seven this fortnight, they'll be the sweetest victories yet.