Sharapova back at Wimbledon and at crossroads

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London, June 27:  There will be perfectly-timed put downs, gushing photo spreads, tired tabloid moans about the grunts and a stream of questions about Serena Williams.

It can only mean one thing: Maria Sharapova is back at Wimbledon.

Three years after her last appearance at the All England Club, and 14 years since the Russian won the title, launching the giggling teenager into the financial and media stratosphere, Sharapova’s career is at a crossroads.

Now 31, Sharapova missed 2016 Wimbledon as she sat out a doping ban while injury scuppered her plans to play the qualifying tournament 12 months ago.

She is without a Slam title in four years, her fifth and most recent coming at the French Open in 2014 while she has won just one trophy — a low-key end-of-season affair in Tianjin — since her return from suspension.

However, there have been flashes of vintage Sharapova along the way and when she returned to Grand Slam tennis at the US Open last year, it was in some style.

Wearing a diamond-encrusted black number, she knocked out then world number two Simona Halep first up on the way to the last 16.

At this year’s French Open, she comfortably disposed of sixth-ranked Karolina Pliskova for the loss of just three games before running out of steam in a quarter-final defeat to reigning Wimbledon champion Garbine Muguruza.

The fourth round in Paris should have pitted her against Williams but fans were denied a 22nd meeting between the pair when the American withdrew injured.

Williams has loomed large in the Sharapova story.

The American lost to her in the 2004 final at the All England Club and at the Tour Championships that same year.

Since then, however, Sharapova has lost 18 on the bounce to her career-long nemesis.

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