at the Union Buildings in Pretoria
London – Maria Sharapova refused to give up on her hopes of winning another Wimbledon title in the aftermath of her latest shock exit from the All England Club.
Sharapova's miserable recent record continued as inspired German ninth seed Angelique Kerber handed her a 7-6 (7/4), 4-6, 6-4 loss in the fourth round on Tuesday.
The 27-year-old Russian has now failed to get beyond the last 16 at Wimbledon in seven of her last eight appearances, losing four times in the last 16 and three times in the second round.
It is 10 years since Sharapova famously shocked Serena Williams as a fresh-faced 17-year-old in the 2004 final.
She reached the semi-finals for the next two years, but since then Sharapova's only remotely successful Wimbledon campaign came in 2011 when she made the final for the second time.
Even that ended in the bitter disappointment of an unexpected loss against Petra Kvitova.
The five-time Grand Slam champion's exit this year was even more frustrating as she arrived fresh from winning the French Open.
“Despite the results and the fact that I've lost here and haven't had good results, I still love playing on grass. I think my game suits the surface extremely well,” Sharapova said.
“It's always tough to say that you love playing out there after losing a match, but I really do.
“Considering I didn't play any matches, I thought I felt much better on it than I did the previous couple of years.”
While Sharapova is confident of future success, she conceded that, with five-time champion Serena Williams and second seed Li Na among the big names to have fallen before the fourth round, she had blown a golden opportunity.
“I always consider myself one of the favourites because I've won Grand Slams before; been No. 1 in the world,” she said.
“It's absolutely normal for people to have high expectations of me doing well in Grand Slam stages. I certainly do as well.
“Today could have gone either way, and it didn't go my way. There were a few little key moments in each set actually that I can learn from.”
Sharapova remains by far the most recognisable female sports star and her numerous lucrative endorsements have made her a multi-millionaire
Losing to Kerber won't change any of that, but a fierce competitor lurks beneath Sharapova's glamour girl image and she is determined to make amends for this frustrating setback in the year's last major at the US Open.
“There's things I can learn from this match. You're only as good as your last tournament. So I've got to get back on the horse and work hard, keep doing it and keep working,” she said.
While Sharapova was sanguine about her loss, she gave far shorter shrift to enquires about whether she would stick around to watch boyfriend Grigor Dimitrov play Andy Murray in the quarter-finals on Wednesday.
“I haven't had time to think about that as I just finished my match,” she said.
But, determined to depart on an upbeat note, Sharapova insisted last year's Wimbledon second round defeat against Michelle Larcher de Brito was a far more significant setback than Tuesday's exit.
“Obviously it's a tough result today, but otherwise I'm in a much better position compared to last year,” she added.
“Last year I was sitting here with an injured shoulder not really sure what I was going to do and I didn't really have a coach at that time. So looking at a bigger perspective, I'm in a much better place.
“I've actually had a really rejuvenating trip, to be honest.” – Sapa-AFP