Sharapova begins French Open build-up in Stuttgart
Maria Sharapova returns a shot to Serena Williams in the final of the Miami Masters on March 30, 2013. Sharapova is back at the Stuttgart tournament from Monday as title-holder as the Russian begins her claycourt preparations ahead of her defence of the French Open.
The 26-year-old has made a bright start to 2013 having reached January's Australian Open semi-finals and picking up her 28th WTA title in March when she beat Caroline Wozniacki in Indian Wells.
Last year, she defeated Victoria Azarenka 6-1, 6-4 in the final on her debut at Stuttgart's indoor tournament.
The French Open victory which was to follow gave Sharapova the full set of Grand Slam titles, eight years after she won Wimbledon as a 17-year-old.
The Russian said the foundation of last year's Roland Garros win was laid in Stuttgart, having once famously compared her movement on clay to "a cow on ice".
"Looking back, I think it was a really important win for me," she said.
"It ultimately led to my win at the French Open.
"For me, to get a win on clay at one of the toughest tournaments of the year, gave me huge confidence."
Last year she beat Australia's Sam Stosur and the Czech Republic's Petra Kvitova on her way to the final and similar confident performances would give her plenty of belief ahead of Roland Garros.
Sharapova said she was looking forward to the Stuttgart tournament where China's Li Na, who lost this year's Australia Open final to Azarenka, is the second seed.
"It is always great coming back to a city and tournament where you have had success," said Sharapova.
"You have those special memories when you step back on the court where you were holding the trophy. And, of course, there is always room for another Porsche," she added in reference to the gleaming sports car which accompanies the winner's cheque.
With eight of the world's top 10 players in Stuttgart, Li is looking to put her recent ankle injury behind her and recapture her Australian Open form.
The injury in February and March forced her to withdraw from the Doha and Dubai tournaments while she lost in the quarter-finals in Miami to eventual winner Serena Williams.
Stosur, ranked ninth, is the sixth seed. She was runner-up in 2010 to Justine Henin.
Former world number one players, Wozniacki of Denmark, plus Serbia's Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic will also be battling it out in Stuttgart.