MARIA SHARAPOVA showed last year she didn't need extensive match practice to be a force at the Australian Open. She will have to repeat the trick again this year after a collarbone injury cut short her involvement in the Brisbane International.
The world No.2 withdrew from the Brisbane tournament on Tuesday without playing a match, citing the same collarbone inflammation that caused her to cancel an exhibition event in Korea last week.
There has been enough improvement to allow her to play groundstrokes but the 25-year-old has only just resumed serving and overhead shots, leaving her well underdone to take the court in her scheduled second round match against Australian Jarmila Gajdosova.
Sharapova was quick to allay fears the injury would be an issue at Melbourne Park, where she made the final last year after overcoming an ankle injury and without the benefit of a warm-up tournament. She will head to Victoria early to prepare for the Open and said she had no doubt she would be fully operational for the opening round.
''I still have quite a bit of time to prepare for Australia,'' Sharapova said. ''I'm on the right track, been training really well, so I just don't want to jeopardise what I've gained in the off-season so far.
''I have my own fair share of experience and know that it's much more important to be healthy to go into a big tournament like the Australian Open than go to into something big with a lot of matches and feel like you're not prepared health-wise. I just have to make a smart move here.''
Sharapova had been corresponding with her doctor in New York, who advised her to continue her rehab and training rather than take a risk in a stacked tournament in Brisbane, where eight of the world's top 10 women were entered.
She said her result at the Australian Open last year, where she lost the final to Victoria Azarenka, proved she didn't need a serious tune up to hit the ground running in a grand slam event.
''It's much more important for me to be healthy and to be ready than to try to go out and play a few matches,'' Sharapova said.
''Last year, [Melbourne] was obviously a good example but it wasn't the first time. It's very important for me to go into something like the Australian Open believing and knowing that I'm healthy, that I'm confident. I don't exactly need to play five tournaments in order to feel that way.''
The beneficiary is Gajdosova, who avoids the powerful Russian and will play world No. 116 Lesia Tsurenko from the Ukraine instead.
The winner will play a quarter final against last year's Brisbane finalist Daniela Hantuchova, who upset fifth seed Sara Errani of Italy 4-6, 6-1, 7-5.