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Can anyone out-slam Sharapova at Wimbledon?

Maria Sharapova
by Ron Atkin
Sunday 17 June 2012

Can it really have been eight years since a blonde teenager from Russia knelt on the baseline of Centre Court, arms thrust aloft in a heady mix of joy and disbelief, having just won the 2004 Wimbledon title? In those eight years Maria Sharapova has known fame by winning the Australian and US Opens, fortune beyond her wildest dreams and come through a career-threating shoulder operation in 2008 with such typical determination that she completed the set of Grand Slam titles by capturing the French Open earlier this month.

Now the 25-year-old American-based Sharapova is aiming for a second triumph at The Championships. She is the form favourite, too, having regained the world No.1 spot for the first time in four years. The French Open marked the culmination of a year-long push for the top as Maria and her repaired shoulder gradually grew stronger physically and mentally. In that 12 months she has reached - and lost - two other Grand Slam finals.

At Wimbledon last summer Maria's slam-bang style propelled her into the final, only to be out-slammed by the tall Czech lefthander Petra Kvitova. There was an even worse drubbing at the Australian Open final in January, where she collected just three games against Victoria Azarenka of Belarus. But her remarkable self-belief remained undimmed.

"No matter how many punches I took in my career I have always gotten back up," she says. "That's what really gets me through. I have a tremendous amount of belief and pride in what I do. I've always said this, I love playing tennis.

"I could have said 'I don't need this'. I have money, I have fame, I have victories, I have Grand Slams. But when your love for something is bigger than all those things you continue getting up in the morning when it's freezing outside."

Sharapova acknowledges there were times when she doubted her ability to come back from shoulder surgery in October 2008. By the following May, when she returned to singles action, her ranking had slumped to 126. "But I never actually said I was not going to be back. I had that certain belief in me. I love competing. There is nothing in the world that gives you that adrenalin feeling. It's different, I think, to other careers. In this sport it's all in your own hands and that's what I love about it. You control your own wins and losses."

Those wins started to mount up this year as Sharapova hit form in the spring, defeating Azarenka in the Stuttgart final in April and then outlasting the dogged Chinese Li Na in the Rome final last month. Now, after that heady success at Roland Garros and a few days' deserved rest, the woman who wowed Wimbledon in 2004 is back to tilt once more at the tournament she loves most - and she has a word of warning for the opposition.

"I have a lot more in me to achieve. I believe in my game, I always strive to be better." All of which could add up to another Grand Slam success on Centre Court. She will certainly be hammering her way in pursuit of that. And anybody who wants to stop Maria Sharapova will need to be prepared to out-slam her.

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