Olympic dream comes into view for Sharapova
London: Maria Sharapova, the girl who left Siberia on a road to fame and fortune, still has unfinished business in an injury-blighted career that has so far brought three grand slam titles.
Away from the lucrative endorsements, the former world number one Russian`s appetite for hard work remains unchanged as she targets the two prizes that would complete her Cinderella journey -- an Olympic gold medal at Wimbledon next year and a French Open title.
Sharapova, 23, missed the 2008 Beijing Olympics because of a shoulder injury. It remains a painful memory for a young woman who, despite the American accent and Florida mansion, still loves the country of her birth.
"It`s a huge, huge goal for me," she told reporters by telephone en route to the launch of the WTA`s Xperia Hot Shots -- an internet-based show that will follow six Tour players around the world, on and off the court.
"It was massively disappointing for me to miss the Beijing Olympics because I`ve always wanted to be an Olympian."
"Growing up in Russia it was always a big part of our culture and more than anything I could feel what an honour it was to represent our country and watch the flag go up."
"I used to cherish watching it and hopefully I can look forward to becoming an Olympian in London next year but first I have to make the team because that`s a tough ask in Russia with so many good players."
Sharapova came to prominence as a 17-year-old at Wimbledon when she stunned Serena Williams to win the title in 2004. A US Open title followed two years later and she won the Australian Open in 2008. The French Open, however, has always proved frustrating with a 2007 semi-final place her best effort.
"I`ve always said the clay court season is the toughest part of the year for me," Sharapova said. "But it`s also one that I really enjoy. I love challenges. Physically, I feel I`m getting better and better at the claycourt season."
"It`s the one grand slam I haven`t won and I`d love to have that on my resume."
With Serena Williams sidelined by injury and health issues, her sister Venus also struggling and Justine Henin retired again, the women`s game lacks the rivalries that illuminate the men`s grand slams.
"There is a newer generation coming up," said Sharapova who heads to Miami in confident mood after reaching the Indian Wells semi-finals last week, losing to world number one Caroline Wozniacki. "I think it`s an exciting time in our sport."
"Rivalries take time to develop and with Serena missing and Justine now retired I hope that that will be the case this year," added the world number 13.
"Serena is a big champion, a big icon in our sport so to see her away from the game for a long while is obviously disappointing. Hopefully we`ll see her return very soon because I enjoy competing against her."
With the virus that laid her low after the Australian Open clear and her shoulder in good shape, Sharapova is relishing the prospect of playing in Miami after missing the tournament for the last three years.
"It`s almost like home," she said. "I love the eclectic Latin fans there and it`s one of my favourite events. I`m happy with my form too after my run at Indian Wells. I feel like I`m getting to where I want to be."