MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — At 23, Maria Sharapova says she has entered a new phase of her tennis career, more relaxed and looking toward the future.
“This is where I’m trying to find my groove after being gone for a while,” said Sharapova, who missed nine months because of a shoulder injury after winning the 2008 Australian Open. “I’m enjoying that.”
The injury denied her the chance to defend her title in 2009, and she was ousted in the first round last year in Melbourne. The 16th-ranked Sharapova says she no longer feels the need to prove herself.
“It’s really a matter of being in the zone, being in your own zone,” she said.
Sharapova advanced Wednesday to the third round by beating Virginie Razzano of France, 7-6 (3), 6-3.
The 2004 Wimbledon and 2006 U.S. Open champion realizes that sooner or later, someone will come along to take her place.
“In the time when you’re playing, you want to make your mark,” she said. “That’s what I try to do.
“I’ve been No. 1. I’ve won Grand Slams. I’ve been in a position where … I’ve faced tough opponents and had to beat them on order to be a champion. This is a different stage of my career.”
Off the court, Sharapova designs her own tennis clothes with Nike. At the Australian Open, she’s been wearing a V-neck blue and peach tennis dress that is part of the “Maria Sharapova Collection.” She promotes her own perfume brand and has numerous endorsements, which makes her one of the most highly paid athletes.
Next she’ll play No. 38-ranked Julia Goerges of Germany, who wears Sharapova’s tennis designs.
“She’s liked all of it so far, since she started wearing it,” Sharapova said. “It’s good news.”
MAKING A RACKET: For Novak Djokovic, the atmosphere at the Australian Open can sometimes seem more like a soccer match.
Flag-waving, chanting and occasional outbursts of violence have sometimes accompanied matches by players from Croatia, Bosnia and Djokovic’s native Serbia. Melbourne, a city of 4 million people, includes many migrants from more than 140 countries.
Passions run especially high when rivals from the former Yugoslavia play.
There were no signs of trouble Wednesday when Djokovic defeated Croatia’s Ivan Dodig 7-5, 6-7 (10), 6-0, 6-2 to advance to the third round. There were pockets of colorful support — chants, songs and dozens of people carrying Serbian flags.
Such passion is common at many big sporting events, though less so at tennis, which features silence during play and generally good manners on and off the court.
“From the fan’s perspective, I think they had fun,” Djokovic said. “It was obvious they liked to be around to watch the pros in action. This tournament has a lot of different colors, nations, and sometimes it feels like you’re in a football match with the support.
“For us, it’s unusual and sometimes good to feel that. Keeps you going even more.”
Djokovic’s win puts him a step closer to a meeting with Roger Federer in the quarterfinals.
TIRED FISH LOSES: Mardy Fish said doctors have diagnosed the mystery illness that has been sapping his energy as a thyroid problem.
The 16th-seeded Fish exited the Australian Open on Wednesday in a four-set loss to Spain’s Tommy Robredo. He had a tough first-round win, having to come back from two sets down for the first time in his career.
Fish, who had a career-best 40 match wins in 2010 and is the second-highest ranked American behind Andy Roddick, said he came into the second-round match pretty sore.
He recently had blood taken to try to identify a medical reason for listlessness despite a strong fitness regimen during the offseason. He said doctors in Australia told him it was a problem with his thyroid — a large endocrine gland that secretes hormones that help control how quickly a body uses energy.
“It just kind of zaps you,” said the 29-year-old Fish. “It’s tough to explain. You kind of feel a little helpless because your body kind of doesn’t let you go (on).”
Doctors weren’t sure of the exact cause, though it might be a virus, he said. He plans to seek treatment when he gets back to the United States.
“I didn’t feel unbelievably sick. It was just one of those things where you go on the court and you just get tired after 30-45 minutes,” Fish said. “It was alarming and frustrating, and it’s been going on for about a month. Hopefully, it’s going to run it’s course soon.”
HIGH FIVE: Fernando Verdasco holds the record for the longest match played at the Australian Open, at 5 hours and 14 minutes. Digging deep at Melbourne Park is becoming a habit.
The ninth-seeded Verdasco reached the third round at Melbourne Park for the third year running on Wednesday in yet another five-set marathon.
He rallied from two sets down to beat Serbia’s Janko Tipsarevic 2-6, 4-6, 6-4, 7-6 (0), 6-0. However, it appeared that Tipsarevic didn’t put up much of a fight in the tiebreaker and fifth set, hitting balls wide, long and whiffing in the final game.
Verdasco has five career titles but is best remembered for his semifinal against Rafael Nadal in Melbourne in 2009, when the two Spaniards played a match that started at dusk and ended after 1 a.m. He followed that up last year with a fourth-round loss to Russia’s Nikolay Davydenko that also went to five sets.
Against Tipsarevic, his strategy was simple.
“Don’t push the brake, keep pushing the gas,” he said. “Keep fighting all the time. I was really close to losing today. I think that just my mentality was the key, one of the biggest keys today to coming back.”
Associated Press writer Jocelyn Gecker contributed to this report.