When Maria Sharapova bowed out to Petra Kvitova in the 2011 Wimbledon finals she had no idea what the future had in store. Twelve months on the Russian is in possession of a career Grand Slam having won the French Open in Paris just a few weeks ago and a world No.1 ranking. And should Sharapova’s sparkling form continue, she will become the first female player since Serena Williams in 2002 to win Roland Garros and Wimbledon back to back.
However, the top seed is under no illusion about the difficulty of that particular feat. “I think it’s the toughest back to back Grand Slam-wise, no doubt,” said Sharapova this afternoon. “Especially if you’re coming off a French Open win or a final it’s the toughest turnaround. As much as you want to celebrate and enjoy, you come here and it’s like a whole new ballgame.”
While it is never easy wearing the runner’s up hat –especially in a Grand Slam final – Sharapova describes last year’s Wimbledon adventure as a “big step in the right direction,” for her career.
“It was the first time in a few years where I had reached the end of Wimbledon, it had been a while,” she recalled. “It was just really good to be at that stage of a Grand Slam again. I was really happy that I was here. You come off that loss and as tough as it is to lose Grand Slam finals, probably one of the toughest things for a tennis player, it’s really about getting yourself back out there and improving and hoping for another chance.”
Of course the All England Club provides many happy memories for Sharapova, who claimed the scalp of Serena Williams in 2004 to lift her maiden Grand Slam title in 2004 at the tender age of 17. Since then the 25-year-old has been prone to injury - a troublesome shoulder saw her undergo traumatic reconstruction in October 2008. But her sheer hard work and determination has paid off – her Roland Garros victory proved to be her first Grand Slam title in more than four years.
Now Sharapova is back on SW19 soil and means business. Like last year, she refrained from playing in a warm up even ahead of The Championships. The reason? “I don’t think I was physically ready,” she said. But the Russian has been practising here for more than a week and “feels good”.
“I think everybody knows the meaning of this tournament for me, ever since I was a young girl, how special it was," she adds. To be part of its history for the rest of my career and life means a lot. I certainly hope I can achieve the success I had many years ago here."