Stanford: The prospect of renewing her long rivalry with Serena Williams has provided Maria Sharapova with added incentive to win this week's Stanford Classic.
The Russian and the American are both on comebacks from health problems and could meet in the quarter-finals at Stanford as they launch their US hard court seasons in California.
"I love playing against her," Sharapova said. "We've had very, very tough matches against each other.”
"I don't have a great record against her and I would love to change that. There is no doubt I would love to play her this summer at some point."
The pair has played each other eight times, with Williams winning six and the Russian twice. Sharapova beat Williams in the 2004 Wimbledon final but the American has won their last five in a row.
"Rivalries are exciting for me and for the sport," Sharapova said.
"That's what women's tennis really needs and men's tennis doesn't lack. To be able to create those types of rivalries in the women's game is important."
Sharapova is also planning to play at Toronto and Cincinnati before heading to New York for the US Open.
The three-time Grand Slam winner made the finals at Stanford and Cincinnati last year but ran out of steam at Flushing Meadows, falling to Caroline Wozniacki after an error-strewn performance, but said she would be better prepared this time.
"I played some great matches during last summer," she said.
"There's no doubt about it. The problem was it wasn't enough for the U.S. Open. For some reason, that level didn't come to the one where it really mattered most. That's just the way it goes."
Sharapova has won four titles since returning from shoulder surgery in 2009 but has not won a grand slam since 2008. However, she showed signs this year she is getting closer to her peak, reaching the semi-finals at the French Open then the final at Wimbledon.
"I was glad I didn't come home after Wimbledon empty handed," the fifth-ranked Russian said.
"To have that moment where you're walking out in the final stage of Wimbledon, even though you didn't leave with the big trophy, gives me a tremendous amount of confidence that I've been doing something right in the last few months and I've been getting better."
First Published: Tuesday, July 26, 2011, 10:51