Sharapova starts 2011 season in Auckland

January 1, 2011 06:41 PM
AUCKLAND, New Zealand (AP) - Former No. 1 Maria Sharapova is confident she can reclaim a place among the world's top-ranked players and says winning another Grand Slam after battling shoulder injuries ``would be the greatest achievement of my career.''

Sharapova said her decision to bypass lucrative exhibition tournaments in Australia to play in next week's ASB Classic in New Zealand underscores her determination to lift her world ranking.

The 25-year-old Russian, ranked 18, will vie with compatriots Dinara Safina and Svetlana Kuznetsova and defending champion Yanina Wickmayer of Belgium in her first WTA tournament in three months.

``I have come back from an awful lot, something that could have taken me away from the game,'' Sharapova said. ``I see myself back on the court, training and getting better and I look at that as a positive.

``If I am able to win a Grand Slam after my injury, it would be my greatest achievement in my career.''

Sharapova won Wimbledon in 2004, the U.S. Open in 2006 and the Australian Open in 2008 but has since endured shoulder injuries. She said the knowledge of what she has previously achieved would give her strength in her latest comeback.

``One of the advantages I have is the experience behind my back of knowing that I've achieved a tremendous amount and more than I ever thought I would as a child,'' Sharapova said.

``I have that in my bag.''

Despite elbow and foot injuries last year, Sharapova won her 21st and 22nd career titles, at Memphis in February and Strasbourg in May, and was runner-up three times.

Sharapova said her decision to play in Auckland ahead of the Australian Open showed her determination to give herself the best possible chance of improving her ranking.

``When I was looking as my schedule for this year I wanted to change things up,'' she said.

``New Zealand was a place at the top of my list. I wanted to play a tournament, called them up and said I really wanted to participate and change it up and not play an exhibition as I've done in the last couple of years.''