December 31 (Reuters) – Former world number one Maria Sharapova will return to tournament action at the Brisbane International next month after being awarded a wildcard to play in the Australian Open warm-up.
The 32-year-old Russian, who last played a competitive match in the first round of the U.S. Open in August, has dropped to 133rd in the world after a season in which a long-standing shoulder injury restricted her to eight tournaments.
The five-times Grand Slam champion will join current world number one Ash Barty, Naomi Osaka and Karolina Pliskova in a strong field at the Queensland Tennis Centre from Jan. 6-12.
“It’s a fresh start after a tough last season,” Sharapova told Australian Associated Press on Tuesday.
“There were a lot of ups and downs, there were times when I was ready but the shoulder wasn’t. But I have had a fairly good off season and I am motivated to compete. At this point in my career when I have that feeling, it’s a good sign.”
Sharapova has been troubled by shoulder problems throughout her career and the current issue required surgery early last year with lingering problems hampering her throughout the 2019 season.
“To be fair when I was younger I never saw myself playing past 30,” she added.
“But I still feel there is a lot in me to give. I still have a lot of fire in me and I am big competitor. As long as the shoulder stays healthy and my body allows me to, I hope there is a lot of time left for me.”
Sharapova’s lowly ranking means she will also need a wildcard to get directly into the main singles draw for this year’s Australian Open, which begins on Jan. 20.
“While it is about results for me, it is more about how I feel day to day, making sure my shoulder holds up, but I am definitely up for that test,” she said.
Sharapova won her third major title at Melbourne Park in 2008 but also tested positive for a banned substance at the tournament in 2016 and served a 15-month suspension from the game.