TENNIS star Maria Sharapova got off to a winning start as she defeated Stephanie Dubois 6-4, 6-2 in the opening round of the AEGON Classic in Birmingham on Monday.
The 22-year-old is seeking a third win having won back to back titles in 2004 and 2005.
“The AEGON Classic is a really good opportunity for me to get practising ahead of Wimbledon,” the glamourous Russian said.
“I have amazing memories of this tournament. It’s a really intimate venue and after playing in front of big crowds in big stadiums, it is always nice to come back to a place where I have had great results when I was young.”
Her support for the tournament has meant five separate appearances, one of which signalled her major breakthrough year in 2004 when she first lifted the Maud Watson trophy, and then went on to win the Wimbledon crown a fortnight later.
“I like playing in a stadium that is a little bit smaller, where the fans have been really appreciative of everything and they have seen me grow up over many years. It was unfortunate I couldn’t play last year but I am very happy to be back here again,” she said.
What kept her out of the game was a serious shoulder injury that meant Sharapova was sidelined for ten months.
In her time out of the game, her ranking slipped out of the top 100, although this is expected to rise to around the 70 mark following her recent victories.
“At the end of the day my ranking is only a number,” said Sharapova.
“It doesn’t change my goal which is to focus on the plan in hand and get back winning matches.”