Sharapova striving to regain her past form

LANCE HORNBY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:47 AM ET

With her winsome green-eyed gaze, tennis queen Maria Sharapova looked out from the CN Tower's restaurant last night with hopes this visit to Toronto would provide her with some better memories.

From a second-round exit in the Rogers Cup in 2004 to a painful rehab of a right rotator cuff injury at a local clinic, she hasn't been too high on T.O.

That is, until her first trip up the Tower yesterday, when she presided over the draw for next week's 2009 Rogers Cup at the Rexall Centre at York University.

After nine months off with the shoulder woes, the former No. 1 began a gradual comeback in May and made the quarterfinals at Wimbledon.

The 6-foot-2 Sharapova enters this year's Rogers Cup as the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour's 49th-ranked player.

She was a 17-year-old when Sharapova first came through Toronto, before her good looks and court prowess helped her become an international sports and fashion celebrity.

EXTRA MATCHES

"My first and second times here were really short," she said of second-round exits in '04 and in the '08 Rogers in Montreal.

"Hopefully, I can make it longer this time.

"It (her recovery) is everything I could have asked for. I'm still building up strength, but I'm enjoying every match, getting the feel back."

Sharapova admits she's not getting as many byes as before.

But she is trying to put the extra matches to good use. She opens against fellow Russian and tournament 10th-seed Nadia Petrova, preceded by qualifying matches that begin today.

Tournament director Karl Hale thinks he has hit the jackpot this year with Sharapova, the Williams sisters (who are on opposite sides of the draw and might be in the final), defending champ and top seed Dinara Safina, Kim Clijsters, Elena Dementieva, Jelena Jankovic and Svetlana Kuznetsova.

"It's the best draw in 10 years with nine current or former No. 1s," Hale said. "There's no getting around that historically we've had problems with the top seeds showing up.

"But the tour has done some changes and it has helped us."

Canadian favourite Aleksandra Wozniak of Montreal, ranked 22nd in this event, opens against Russian Alisa Kleybanova, who is ranked slightly lower.

But if Wozniak wins, it puts her on track to face 2008 Rogers finalist Dominika Cibulkova.

DRY WEEK

The tourney, which runs until next Sunday, might also benefit from a rare dry week in these parts.

"Two things that will make this tournament are the playing field and the weather and both are going to be great for the first time in a very long while," Hale said.

"The (forecast) looks good, but we'll take it day by day and just hope for no rain."

LANCE.HORNBY@SUNMEDIA.CA


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