Melbourne: World No.2 Maria Sharapova must be feeling like she has been down this road before.
Last year the Russian arrived at the Australian Open without any match practice after struggling to overcome a nagging ankle injury sustained at the 2011 year-ending WTA Championships.
The problems forced her out of the Brisbane International, the only tournament she had been scheduled to play before the season’s first Grand Slam.
Twelve months later, the four-time Grand Slam winner is again entering Melbourne lacking match practice after pain in her collar bone caused her to skip Brisbane, won by Serena Williams.
Not that Sharapova seemed too concerned.
“It’s much more important for me to be healthy and to be ready than to try to go out and play a few matches,” the 25-year-old said after her withdrawal in Brisbane.
Despite coming into last year’s Australian Open cold, Sharapova made it to the final, although she was blown away by Victoria Azarenka in just 82 minutes.
An error-strewn performance left some observers questioning whether it was the beginning of the end for the Florida-based Russian, who burst onto the scene as a 17-year-old in 2004 by winning the Wimbledon title. Instead, Sharapova silenced her critics and had one of the most successful years of her career.
Aside from Williams’ dominance in Brisbane, a big concern for Sharapova will be her recent form against the American and Azarenka. She will probably need to beat at least one of them to clinch the title in Melbourne.
Sharapova will doubtless be anxious to settle a few scores at the year’s first major.