In a sport notorious for its competitors aging early, Maria Sharapova could already be considered a wily veteran of the women’s tennis circuit.
She has won three Grand Slam titles and is a former world No. 1. Not bad for someone still a long way shy of her 23rd birthday.
Sharapova has plenty of years to add to her trophy cabinet, not that she takes anything for granted.
She is just happy to be preparing for Wimbledon again, the scene of her first and arguably most famous triumph when she was only 17 years old.
After missing more than eight months due to a rotators cuff injury on her right shoulder, Sharapova feared that the game she loved dearly might also be responsible for sending her to an early retirement.
“There was a lot of time to sit back and think of my career so far and think of what I’ve accomplished, what I want to do and where I want to go," Sharapove said. "It made me realize that something you love can be taken away from you at any second."
She has a mature head on her young shoulders, which is not surprising for someone who was thrust into the limelight while barely into her teens.
Initially, tennis purists were skeptical of the gorgeous Russian with a long, blonde ponytail and even longer legs. She bore a striking resemblance to another blonde Russian starlet, the recently retired Anna Kournikova, whose game couldn’t back up her stunning looks.
Kournikova never won a singles trophy, not that she seemed to mind. Her bank balance often dwarfed her much more accomplished opponents and suggested she was victorious many times over, though most of her money came through modeling assignments which made something of a mockery of women’s tennis.
The challenge for Sharapova was to prove that she was more than just a catwalk queen on a tennis court.
Wimbledon is just her fourth tournament of the year. It was here five years ago when she shrieked her way on to tennis’ biggest stage.
Facing the two-time defending champion Serena Williams in the final, she was given little chance against the powerful American; however Sharapova thumped her way to a shocking straight sets victory.
Afterwards, she hugged the Rosewater dish, kind of like any teenage girl might hug her favorite teddy bear.
She was no Kournikova clone. Not on the court anyway.
When Sharapova was faced with a career-threatening injury almost a year ago, she once again faced a challenge she hadn’t met before; one that wasn’t going away, forcing her to take the longest break of her career.
For those who have been through a rehab assignment of any sort, the importance of having a strong supporting cast of family and friends around them can’t be overvalued, and for Sharapova it was no different.
“It took a lot of good people around me and a good team that kept me going and kept me positive, Sharapova said. "There were definitely a few setbacks during that time period and you always wonder when you’re going to come back."
Now Sharapova is back and if familiar surroundings is what she needs to help in her quest to return to the top, then there’s no better place for her to be than leafy South West London.
In the four tournaments since her return, Sharapova has performed well, but has only made it as far as the semi-finals once. One of the problems with her game has been her ability to serve.
Once her strongest weapon, she has had to revamp it in an effort to prevent further injury to her shoulder.
And that’s a good thing as Sharapova knows that power isn’t the only way to win matches.
“Sometimes it doesn’t take your best to win something, sometimes it takes something different, being smarter than [your opponent] and maybe a little bit of luck, that always helps, but it’s a combination of things coming together at the right time."