Fully fit Sharapova revved up and raring to go

NEWPORT BEACH: Maria Sharapova declared her surgically repaired right shoulder fully healed and that she was ready to return to the court for the first time since a disappointing performance at Wimbledon.

"I am a hundred percent," Sharapova said Wednesday before making an appearance for the Newport Beach Breakers in their World Team Tennis match against Kansas City.

"I mean, if I wasn't at that point, I certainly wouldn't be playing. That's why I took my time and gave myself a chance to really go out there and to feel like I didn't have any excuses." The former No. 1 player in the world has appeared in four tournaments since undergoing surgery in October to repair her right rotator cuff. She's been eliminated each time to an opponent outside the top ten.

Last month, she was upset in the second round of Wimbledon by Gisela Dulko. A champion at the All England Club at age 17, Sharapova is now ranked 61st.

She will compete in the Bank of West Tournament in California starting Monday and then test her shoulder by playing the following week in the Los Angeles Women's Tennis Championship.

After that, it's the U.S. Open, which begins Aug. 31.

Sharapova said has never wavered in believing she would make a full comeback.

"By no means was it easy. Definitely I had ups and downs," she said. "I had days where I had to push myself more than I've ever had to mentally than physically.

"It all pays off. Obviously just getting to be able to play tennis again is an achievement in itself. Now it's about preparing myself, forgetting about what I went through, getting back into the form where I was - and even better." Most 22 year olds aren't in the comeback business, but she started he career at 14 and already has won three Grand Slam titles.

"At 22, you consider you've been playing on the Pro Tour that many years, (a comeback's) definitely not a surprise," she said.

"It is a little surprising to see so many girls kind of coming out of the woodwork, and they're so many years younger than you. You're like, `Where did the time go?' "But I enjoy every single year of it. As I get older, I become a much wiser person on the court. I learn a lot in life. A learn a lot from my profession, from what I do. I'm definitely not sad that the years are going by." Sharapova said keeping the shoulder strong will now have to be part of her life.

"It's not something you just stop when it feels good," she said. "You have to keep working on it. You have to keep getting it stronger.

"For the rest of my career I'll be doing shoulder exercises. It won't be as fun as I want it to be. It's all a routine. But everyone has to do it. Everyone has injuries. It's part of the game."