MELBOURNE • Maria Sharapova says she is inspired by the likes of 30-somethings Serena Williams, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer as she bids to return to the top of tennis.
The Russian, back in the top 50 after 15 months serving a doping ban, had her progress at the Australian Open ruthlessly snuffed out by 2016 champion Angelique Kerber in the third round yesterday.
"I'm here because I'm motivated to get better at my craft. I really do believe that I can, otherwise I wouldn't be here," said the five-time Grand Slam champion after losing 1-6, 3-6 in 64 minutes.
"I definitely take great examples of a Federer or a Nadal or a Serena and Venus that have continued to have the motivation that they do at this age," added Sharapova, who turns 31 in April.
"It's not just walking through a Grand Slam tunnel and getting on court. There's so much more to it. I have a lot of admiration for that because I know what goes into creating those moments and getting to that stage. Yeah, that definitely inspires me, absolutely."
She suffered a string of early defeats after her comeback last April but has been working her way back up the rankings since. She had been banned for taking performance-enhancing meldonium.
"I think there are a lot of things that I need to get better at and improve on. But looking at the overall picture, the first thing is that I'm healthy," a disappointed world No. 48 Sharapova told reporters.
"There's a lot to build from. It's a lot of things that take time. To be able to get these matches, players that are playing this well, I'm going to face a lot of them this year. Today was not enough."
Kerber, who plummeted down the rankings last year after finishing the year before at No. 1, broke Sharapova's serve in the first game of the match and that set the tone for what followed.
The German streaked away with the first set and although Sharapova briefly threatened a fightback after falling behind in the second, it was not to be her night.
"I have so many great memories from this court," said Kerber of Rod Laver Arena, where she beat Serena Williams in the 2016 final.
"I came out and I was trying to enjoy every point. Maria's a champion, she played so good the last few weeks. I learnt a lot from the last 24 months. I had a great 2016 and last year was tougher, but everyone who knows me knows I never give up."
THE GUARDIAN, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
DAY 6 SELECTED RESULTS
MEN, 3RD RD Dominic Thiem (Aut) bt Adrian Mannarino (Fra) 6-4 6-2 7-5, Tennys Sandgren (USA) bt Maximilian Marterer (Ger) 5-7 6-3 7-5 7-6(7-5), Tomas Berdych (Cze) bt Juan Martin del Potro (Arg) 6-3 6-3 6-2, Novak Djokovic (Srb) bt Albert Ramos (Esp) 6-2 6-3 6-3, Roger Federer (Sui) bt Richard Gasquet (Fra) 6-2 7-5 6-4.
WOMEN, 3RD RD Karolina Pliskova (Cze) bt Lucie Safarova (Cze) 7-6 (8-6) 7-5, Madison Keys (USA) bt Ana Bogdan (Rom) 6-3 6-4, Caroline Garcia (Fra) bt Aliaksandra Sasnovich (Blr) 6-3 5-7 6-2, Barbora Strycova (Cze) bt Bernarda Pera (USA) 6-2 6-2.