Cape Town - Maria Sharapova was left to reflect on a disappointing
first-round defeat to Naomi Osaka at Indian Wells on Wednesday.
Osaka easily won 6-4, 6-4 against the five-time Grand Slam
winner, who until recently was the highest paid female athlete in the world.
Sharapova returned to great fanfare last April following a
15-month suspension, but despite a solid fourth-round showing at the US Open,
her comeback has not been going according to plan.
She has now fallen to No 41 in the world, and worryingly her
form shows little sign of improving.
The Russian is refusing to entertain any thoughts of a
crisis, however, and her press conference after her defeat on Wednesday was
surprisingly jovial. Sharapova even offered a piece of candy to whoever asked
the best question.
"I've known that since the comeback that I have to work
to get myself to be in a seeded position, and to get what they call a better
draw, all those things," she said. "That takes work, that takes time,
I'm not afraid of any of that.
"Of course, I wanted to do well here, and not just
because I won this event a couple of times, but that's the mentality I have as
a former champion, as someone that's a competitor that wants to do well and
compete well at an event no matter what event it is or where it is."
Sharapova said she still feels grateful just to be able to
play, after being forced to spend more than a year on the sidelines for taking
a banned substance.
"All I know is that this year I'm competing and I'm
playing, and last year, I wasn't in that position, so I have a lot to be
grateful for when I walk out to that tunnel and onto to that court," she