Indian Wells, California: Maria Sharapova, who last year reached her first Grand Slam final since 2008, has parlayed 2011's run of success into a solid start to the new WTA Tour campaign.
The three-time Grand Slam champion is back in the top five in the world after a couple of injury-plagued seasons which saw her fall to 14th at the end of 2009 after five consecutive seasons finishing inside the top 10.
Sharapova, who turns 25 next month, finished last year ranked fourth overall after reaching the final of Wimbledon. She also made it to the final of this year's Australian Open where she lost to Victoria Azarenka 6-3, 6-0.
"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," said world No. 2 Sharapova on Wednesday at the Indian Wells WTA tournament.
"Obviously the next stage is to get those Grand Slams. That's obviously my goal. Looking back even a year ago, I was sitting in this chair, I can say I am in a much better position.
"To get to two Grand Slam finals within that year has been challenging but extremely great."
The 2006 Indian Wells champion Sharapova appeared to be on her way to the final here last year before she ran head first into Caroline Wozniacki, losing 6-1, 6-2 in the semis.
The Russian-born Sharapova, who now lives nearby Los Angeles, said she has strong memories of playing in Indian Wells, especially in 2002 when she was hammered 6-0, 6-2 by Monica Seles.
"This was one of my first big professional tournaments," Sharapova said Wednesday as women's play got underway.
"I always looked back to when I played Monica Seles here. It was the only time we played, apart from an exhibition. I won my first round and she was seeded and I got her. I thought I played extremely well and the scoreline was extremely bad. It was pathetic. It must have been 1 and zero.
"It's like a bullet hits your head, a huge reality check in a way. No matter how young you are, you come out of the match and you think you played so well.
"I don't think I could have done anything better. Where do I go from here? It's amazing how you have those thoughts and then later going to the practice court and how you kind of start to think a little bit out there and learn what you need to work on. At that age, you're just learning from wins, learning from losses, learning from everything."
Sharapova has had some major success in Indian Wells but she has also had some real stinkers, including the Seles match and in 2005 when she was double bagelled by Lindsay Davenport 6-0, 6-0.
But this time the former world number one has the fear factor on her side when she comes up against an either lower-ranked or a younger opponent trying to make her way on the tour.
The second seeded Sharapova will face either Argentina's Gisela Dulko or Australian Jelena Dokic in her second round opening match.
Her path at Indian Wells could see her go through to face last year's US Open champ Samatha Stosur in the quarters.
Sharapova knows what it is like to bite the dust in the California desert and says a big part of managing her game at the 16,100 seat Indian Wells Tennis Garden is adjusting to the strong winds that can buffet the main court at times.
"Patience. A lot of patience," Sharapova said. "Sometimes your level kind of evens out a bit because no matter who you play, whether it's the first round or a final, just because it's windy for the both of us and you can't expect your level to be extremely high on those days."