Maria Sharapova may have negotiated the first hurdle with few problems but the 2008 Australian Open champion knows there’s a long way to go before she can even think about contending for the title this year.
Sharapova is seeded third this year and performed impressively well to dispose of the free-hitting Bethanie Mattek-Sands in straight sets in humid conditions on day two but this is just her second tournament since last August and she’s well aware that a string of dangerous opponents lie ahead, in particular Camila Giorgi who could provide her with her first real test of the tournament in round three.
The petite Italian came close to crashing out in round one but she packs a punch and she’s a proven performer on the big stage as she showed by reaching the fourth round of last year’s US Open.
“There's no easy opponent in this tournament, no matter what round you're playing,” Sharapova said.
“I think it's just about being ready, not really worrying about so much what's on the other side, but taking care of your own business out there. I'm happy to be back playing a Grand Slam. I missed the last one at the end of last year.
I'm happy to get myself back in form and really start well here. You obviously have to lower your expectations a little bit and be a bit realistic about maybe the first few matches. You have to grind, work through them, hope to get better as the tournament goes on.”
She made the semi-finals in Brisbane a couple of weeks ago, losing to her nemesis Serena Williams 6-2, 7-6(9).
At times she gave the American some serious problems but the conditions in Melbourne aren’t quite as quick which would favour the likes of Williams and Victoria Azarenka more should they meet at the business end of the tournament.
“Brisbane one of the fastest courts we've played on in a really long time,” she said.
“Here it's a bit slower. I heard the outside courts are a bit faster than some of the main show courts. I'm not sure why there's not more consistency in terms of all the events having the same speed. [But] It doesn't really matter.
I think the most important thing is the adjustments that you make. Maybe the first two balls in Brisbane were a bit more important than maybe here, where the rallies are going to be slightly longer.”
Sharapova admitted with a wry smile that she’s quite the expert on the shoulder joint now, having suffered from two severe injuries during the course of her career.
But she didn’t miss the tour too much this time round.
“I didn't think about it much because I spent quite a bit of time trying to find solutions to healing faster,” she explained. “I travelled quite a bit trying to find different specialists to help me.
I visited great places, but meanwhile worked out. Had my trainer with me every day because it's quite easy to lose shape when you're not doing anything. I'm not a sporty type of person. I don't know how to put it.
I like doing things outdoors. I'm not a fan of a gym. I try to live in warmer climates so I can go out and do that, whether it's riding a bike, walking or running along a beach.”
Her previous injury saw her forced out of the game for almost ten months from 2008-2009 and during that period her ranking plummeted to outside the world’s top 100.
She says that was far harder to recover from psychologically, especially as she had to go through the trauma of an operation.
“That was pretty tough,” she said. “This is far from being that serious. This was a matter of time, which in tennis it's not great when you come to a doctor's office and they say, Time, time, just wait, wait.
We don't have much patience because we always have a schedule set, tournaments to play. That's tough to accept because you don't quite know when the inflammation is going to go down, when you're going to be able to play overhead shots, things like that.”
But having cured the impatience through spending plenty of time in warm parts of the world, Sharapova said there was still little that could prepare her for the brutal heat of the Australian summer, with temperatures still proving almost unbearable well into the night session.
“I don't think anyone can prepare themselves for that type of heat,” she said.
“I think it's tough to train on a very high level in that type of heat. I grew up in Florida practicing so many hours a day. It was quite difficult in the summer. Sometimes you found that you'd get a lot more if you started a little bit earlier or later in the day.
When you try to put in that effort, that maximum effort to give as an athlete, it's pretty difficult for a longer period of time.”
Like most of the draw, she was in no doubt that matches should have been postponed on day two due to the temperatures. With so many big names speaking out, maybe the organisers will finally sit up and take notice.