After cruising for the first week-and-a-half, Sharapova was eliminated by Li Na in the semifinals, losing 6-2, 6-2.
Li Na will face Victoria Azarenka in the Australian Open final after the No. 1 seed beat American teenager Sloane Stephens, 6-1, 6-4.
Sharapova was forced to miss the Brisbane International after injuring her collarbone, thus losing a crucial aspect of her Australian Open preparation. As she noted, that left her a little off her game heading into the tournament, though she felt she would overcome the rust (via ESPN):
"I would have loved to come into it with a few matches but sometimes circumstances don't allow it and that is okay. I would rather be going on to the court knowing that I am healthy and, yes, I might be a bit rusty but I am experienced enough to know the adjustments I need to make in those kind of circumstances."
For what it's worth, Sharapova missed the Brisbane International last year yet still advanced to the Australian Open finals, where she lost to Victoria Azarenka.
In general, 2012 saw Sharapova return to the top of the women's game. She reached the semifinals in three of the four Grand Slams (winning the French Open), and won three tournaments overall. She even became the WTA's top-ranked player after winning Roland Garros, though that didn't last long.
It's one reason why Sharapova's result at the Australian Open is somewhat disappointing, considering she was the tournament's No. 2 seed. Still, once Sharapova returns to a normal preparation schedule she should pick up where she left off in 2012.
While she will have plenty of competition atop the women's game—including the likes of Azarenka, Serena Williams, Petra Kvitova and Agnieszka Radwanska, among others—expect Sharapova to be a factor all year long.
In 2012, she proved she was back. In 2013, she'll have to prove it wasn't a fluke. The Australian Open wasn't a total failure for Sharapova, but she'll expect to be winning Grand Slams this year.
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