BRISBANE - A refreshed and relaxed Maria Sharapova believes an injury-enforced break from the game has rekindled her enthusiasm for tennis.
Sharapova has not played since August when she was forced to withdraw from the US Open with a right shoulder injury.
The glamorous Russian had earlier suffered a hip injury, which saw her pull out of two tournaments in July, before a shock first-round loss to Sloane Stephens in Cincinatti in early August.
But speaking in Brisbane on the eve of her first tournament of the new season, Sharapova said she was ready to return to the tour under the guidance of new coach Sven Groeneveld.
"I've had a really healthy off-season, something quite unusual because in the last few years I always had a little injury here and there," she said.
"So that was nice, because I gave myself time to recover and get better.
The 26-year-old said she wanted to ensure she did not return to the tour until she was completely recovered.
"I knew from the moment I withdrew from the (US) Open that I was going to give myself the right amount of time that I needed - whether that was a week, a month, a few months, I didn't know. Nobody really knew," she said.
"I've played with an injured shoulder for a while, so it was really important for me to take that time," she added.
"I started quite early, so I made it into two parts. I started slow, took a little bit of a break, and then geared up again with a little bit more intensity."
The world number four said she still had the motivation to play despite being on tour for more than 10 years.
"Certainly when you're doing it for so many years of your life there are moments where you felt like you need a pick-me-up," she said.
"I didn't play for a few months, and that was the reason for me to get back out there.
"I know when I'm healthy how I can play and what I'm capable of doing. I needed to get healthy. So that was the motivation on its own."
Sharapova, who has won four Grand Slams, believes new coach Groeneveld will give her an edge that she has been missing since she parted ways with Thomas
Hogstedt after a second-round loss at Wimbledon.
Groeneveld has worked recently with players Ana Ivanovic and Caroline Wozniacki, and also previously coached Monica Seles and Mary Pierce.
"From the first time we met I really liked what he had to say," Sharapova said.
"He came in as a very experienced person. He started from the very beginning of the game, and one of the things I've always liked in a coach is when he coached against me, and he's been there for many years coaching against me.
"And I like when someone comes in and is honest and truthful and says it like it is."