Maria Sharapova’s favorite time of the year is now. The 22-year-old Manhattan Beach resident is coming back from a 10-month absence from the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour after shoulder surgery and ready to take on the world’s best in Carson during the 2009 LA Women’s Tennis Championships presented by Herbalife, played Aug. 3-9 on the hard courts of The Home Depot Center on the campus of California State University, Dominguez Hills.
“It's so nice to be back home. I love this time of year because I feel like all the tournaments are fairly close,” said Sharapova on Wednesday night in a pre-match press conference before her World Team Tennis match playing for the Newport Beach Breakers. “California is my second home. My coach (Michael Joyce) lives here. I have many friends and supporters here. I feel like I can get everyone tickets and everyone can watch me play 30 minutes away rather than having to travel all the way to Europe or somewhere like that. It makes it a lot easier for them.”
One of Southern California’s most prestigious tennis traditions, the $700,000 LA Women’s Tennis Championships enables tennis fans to enjoy a world-class Sony Ericsson WTA Tour 56-player singles draw that will include 2008 LA Women’s Tennis Championships winner Dinara Safina, the No. 1 player in the world. Other in the field include: Russia’s Svetlana Kuznetsova (No. 5), Vera Zvonareva (No. 7) and Nadia Petrova (No. 10), Belarus’ Victoria Azarenka (No. 8), Denmark’s Caroline Wozniacki (No. 9), Serbia’s Ana Ivanovic (No. 11), the event’s 2007 champion, Slovakia’s Dominika Cibulkova (No. 12), Italy’s Flavia Pennetta (No. 13), Poland’s Agnieszka Radwanska (No. 14) and France’s Marion Bartoli (No. 15). The tournament also features a 16-team doubles draw.
A 19-time WTA Tour singles champion, Sharapova is one of the most visible female athletes in the world and despite all the time she missed on the court over the past 12 months she still managed to earn $22 million in endorsements between June of last year and June of this year, according to Forbes Magazine.
The former world No. 1 player and three-time Grand Slam winner missed the Beijing Olympics, the U.S. Open, and was not being able to defend her Australian Open title in February because of the injury.
The Internet’s most searched-for-athlete on Yahoo! in 2008 stayed busy doing modeling shoots and commercials, and kept in playing shape for her much-anticipated return to tennis, which finally came at the Warsaw Open as a wild card in mid-May. She said after Warsaw that patience is the key to her successful return. “Hopefully, I’ll be ready for the U.S. Open. This is not an overnight process. It's gonna take time, to get everything together. As much time as it needs, I'm ready for it.”
Did Sharapova ever lose faith that should she would be able to make it all the way back? “I never lost faith because I knew the things I had already accomplished were way beyond what I ever dreamed of in my life,” she said. “So to already have that in my pocket and look forward to getting back and playing, doing what I love was a challenge.
“But I had a great team around me that kept me really positive. By no means was it easy, an easy flow. Definitely, I had ups and downs. I had days where I had to push myself more than I've ever had to, mentally than physically. It all pays off. Obviously just getting to be able to play tennis again is an achievement in itself. Now it's about preparing myself, forgetting about what I went through, just preparing my game, getting back into the form where I was, and even better.”