INDIAN WELLS, California Losing two grand slam finals in the past nine months has been bitter-sweet for Maria Sharapova as she continues her bid to return to the game's pinnacle from injury.
The former world number one has not won any of the sport's blue riband events since being sidelined for seven months after a shoulder injury in 2008, yet she has been delighted with her progress so far.
"It's definitely great to be in those stages again, putting yourself in a position where you are a match away from winning a grand slam," Russian Sharapova told reporters at Indian Wells Tennis Garden on Wednesday.
"Obviously the next stage is to get those grand slams, and that's my goal. Looking back even a year ago when I was sitting in this (interview) chair, I can say I am now in a much better position.
"To get to two grand slam finals within that year has been challenging but extremely great. Losing in the finals is never fun but to put yourself in that position ... gives you a great amount of confidence for the future."
Sharapova burst into the spotlight as a 17-year-old when she won Wimbledon in 2004 and she added the 2006 U.S. Open and 2008 Australian Open crowns before her 21st birthday.
However she then missed the 2008 Beijing Olympics and that year's U.S. Open and was unable to defend her Australian Open crown the following January because of her shoulder injury.
Her world ranking dropped to 18th by the end of 2010 but she has since risen to number two after losing last year's Wimbledon final to Petra Kvitova and the Australian Open final in January to Victoria Azarenka.
"You have so much more perspective on your career than you ever did," Sharapova said of her long struggle to regain form following her shoulder problems. "It's such an eye-opener when you go through something like that because you forget how quickly something can vanish.
"And when you get that back, whether you win a quarter-final or a semi-final, no matter how many times you have been in that position, you cherish it a lot more than you did before."
Sharapova has been seeded second for the Indian Wells WTA tournament which started on Wednesday and is scheduled to meet defending champion Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark in the last four.
Champion here in 2006, Sharapova has fond memories of an event in which she first competed in 2002 as an unranked wildcard.
"This was one of my first big professional tournaments and I always look back to when I played Monica Seles here," she recalled. "That was the only time we ever played, apart from an exhibition.
"I won my first round and Monica was seeded and I got her in the second round. I thought I played extremely well against her but the scoreline was extremely bad, 6-1 6-0 I think. It was pathetic.
"But ever since, playing here at Indian Wells certainly makes me feel comfortable because California is one of my second homes."
(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by Frank Pingue)
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