2011: Return To Top 10
It was announced that Sharapova would bring in Thomas Högstedt as a coach for the 2011 season, joining Michael Joyce. On December 5, Sharapova won an exhibition match against world No. 2 Vera Zvonareva in Monterrey, Mexico. It was also announced that she would start endorsing the Head YOUTEK IG Instinct Racquet range. This ended her career long use of Prince racquets.
In Sharapova's first ever official Australian Open warm-up tournament at the 2011 ASB Classic in Auckland, New Zealand, she was seeded 1st. She lost to the Hungarian veteran and eventual champion Gréta Arn in the quarterfinals. After the ASB Classic, Sharapova decided to take a hiatus from Joyce's coaching, despite having worked together for a number of years, including during her successful years where she became a multiple Grand Slam champion.
Sharapova's next appearance was at the 2011 Fed Cup tie against France, which she lost to Virginie Razzano. She then withdrew from the 2011 Open GDF Suez in Paris because of viral illness. She also had to pull out of the 2011 Dubai Tennis Championships and 2011 Qatar Ladies Open because of an ear infection.
Sharapova returned to the tour in March by taking part in the 2011 BNP Paribas Open, where she was seeded 16th. She defeated former world No. 1 Dinara Safina, in the fourth round en route to the semifinal, where she lost to world No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki.
At the 2011 Sony Ericsson Open in Key Biscayne, Sharapova upset fourth seed Samantha Stosur in the fourth round. She then defeated 26th seed Alexandra Dulgheru 3–6, 7–66, 7–65 in the quarterfinals in a match that lasted 3 hours and 28 minutes, the longest match of her career. In the semifinals, Sharapova took her Australian Open reprisal on Germany's Andrea Petkovic by defeating her. In the final, she was defeated by Victoria Azarenka, despite a late comeback in the second set. With this result, Sharapova returned to the top 10 for the first time since February 2009.
During the clay-court season, Sharapova participated in 2011 Mutua Madrileña Madrid Open, where she lost to Dominika Cibulková, in the third round and the 2011 Internazionali BNL d'Italia, where she was seeded seventh. She defeated top seed Caroline Wozniacki in the semifinals and sixth seed Samantha Stosur, in the final to take home the title, marking her biggest clay-court victory to date.
At the 2011 French Open, Sharapova was seeded seventh. She defeated French wildcard Caroline Garcia in the second round, despite trailing 3–6, 1–4, before winning the last 11 games of the match. In the quarterfinals, she defeated 15th seed Andrea Petkovic, marking her first Grand Slam semifinal since her comeback from the career-threatening shoulder injury. She then lost to sixth seed and eventual champion Li Na, in the semifinals, ending her clay season with a win-loss record of 12–2.
At the 2011 Wimbledon Championships, Sharapova had not dropped a set entering the final, before losing to eighth seed Petra Kvitová in straight sets. This marked her first final in over three years at a Grand Slam event.
Sharapova started her summer hard court season at the 2011 Bank of the West Classic in Stanford, USA. In a highly anticipated match, Sharapova lost to the eventual champion Serena Williams, in the quarterfinals. In her next event at 2011 Rogers Cup in Toronto, Canada, Sharapova lost to Galina Voskoboeva in the third round, marking her 100th career loss.
Sharapova then contested at the 2011 Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati, Ohio. As the fourth seed, she received a bye into the second round. On the way to her fourth final of the year, she beat Anastasia Rodionova, 14th seed Svetlana Kuznetsova, 10th seed Samantha Stosur, and 2nd seed Vera Zvonareva. In the final, she defeated fellow former world No. 1 Jelena Jankovic, in 2 hours and 49 minutes, making it the longest WTA tour final of the year. She subsequently moved up to world No. 4, her highest ranking since August 2008 and the highest since her comeback from her shoulder injury.
Sharapova entered the US Open in fine form, where she was seeded third. She beat British up-and-comer Heather Watson, and Anastasiya Yakimova, to reach the third round. She was then upset by Flavia Pennetta. However, because of the fall of Kim Clijsters and Vera Zvonareva in the rankings, Sharapova climbed to world No. 2.
Sharapova's next tournament was the 2011 Toray Pan Pacific Open in Tokyo, Japan. As second seed, she received a bye into the second round, where she beat Tamarine Tanasugarn. She then beat 13th seed Julia Goerges, before retiring against Petra Kvitova in the quarterfinal, 3–4, after slipping on the baseline, suffering an ankle injury. This also forced her to withdraw from the 2011 China Open the following week. Sharapova then flew to Istanbul to prepare for the 2011 WTA Tour Championships, her first time qualifying since 2007. During the WTA Tour Championships, Sharapova withdrew during the round-robin stage after defeats against Samantha Stosur and Li Na, as a result of the ankle injury she had suffered in Tokyo.
Sharapova ended the year as number 4 in the world, her first top-10 finish since 2008 and first top-5 finish since 2007.
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