BRISBANE, Australia (AP) — After pulling out of the Brisbane International with injuries in recent seasons, Maria Sharapova is aiming to use the season-opening tournament this time as a springboard for her comeback and to see how her new support crew works in competition.
Sharapova has only played one match since an early exit at Wimbledon due to a right shoulder injury and has spent months working with her new coach Sven Groeneveld. She arrived in Australia to prepare for the first major of the season with her boyfriend and fellow professional Grigor Dimitrov, who returns after losing the final here to Andy Murray last season.
Serena Williams won the last Brisbane title and is back to defend it, hoping she hasn't lost any of the momentum from a stunning 2013 season when she won 11 titles including the French and U.S. Opens, had 78 wins from 82 matches — including a 34-match winning streak — and collected more than $12 million in prize money.
Her brief offseason was not exactly business as usual — although it was commercial.
She trained in Florida with her father, Richard, so she could be close to home for the relaunch of one of her companies and to hire a CEO for it.
"I was interviewing so many people. Corporate Serena was taking over," she told a news conference Sunday. "I'm happy to be here right now."
Corporate Serena conducted at least 10 interviews, and still has at least one more to do. She expects it to be a tough interview, like they all are.
"I definitely am not easy ... I'm a tough interviewer. For me, it's all about business and removing a lot of emotion," she said. "I just want to get to the point."
And that brings her back to tennis, where she can turn the corporate email account off for a while and concentrate on what she does best.
"I took a couple weeks off, but I was already itching to get back on the court," she said. "I didn't want to lose any rhythm or anything. Didn't want to lose momentum."
No. 3-seeded Sharapova is in Williams' half of the draw, meaning they could meet in the semifinals.
The Brisbane tournament will be Sharapova's only warmup for the Australian Open, which starts Jan. 13, so she needs to find her rhythm quickly. She said she'd been practicing hard, but also concentrating on relaxing when she's off the court. Traveling with Dimitrov has helped, she said, despite or because of their major common interest.