LONDON // With the red clay of Roland Garros tamed, Maria Sharapova heads to the grass of Wimbledon as a clear favourite after completing a career grand slam and regaining her place at the top of the rankings.
Clay is her least favourite surface, and by winning the French Open Sharapova proved that she is clearly the best of the current crop of female players. Those who would be expected to challenge her at Wimbledon, such as four-times champion Serena Williams and last year's winner Petra Kvitova, have all looked distinctly second best in the run-up.
Williams, the world No 6, suffered a humiliating first-round exit in Paris. But she is perhaps the only player who can rival Sharapova when it comes to playing aggressive front-foot tennis, as evidenced by her 8-2 record against the Russian.
As she nears the end of a career in which she has won 13 grand slams, however, Williams' hunger for more is frequently called into question.
"I've been through so much in my life, I just always think things can be worse," she said after losing in Paris.
Kvitova, meanwhile, was swatted aside by Sharapova in a one-sided French semi-final, then lost in the first round at the Eastbourne International.
"I think that defending is tougher," last year's winner said. "The first time, there is no expectation on you, you just play. It is not like the people expect that you can win."
Sharapova, on the other hand, comes to Wimbledon having joined a club of 10 women who have won all four majors.
When you combine that with the impressive run of form that has taken her to three titles in 2012 and into the finals of three of the last four major, she is the woman to beat.
"I can't wait to step on it [the grass] and start working and getting ready for Wimbledon," Sharapova said. "Everyone wants to beat a grand slam champion and beat the No 1 so when I step out on court I am going to start working towards improving."
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