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By Chris Oddo

(January 2, 2012) -- It's not the worst in the news in the world, but Maria Sharapova's withdrawal from this week's Brisbane International tournament certainly isn't what the four-time Grand Slam champion and World No. 2 wants to be dealing with as she begins her season.

Last year this time, Sharapova was dealing with ankle issues that had lingered for most of the off-season, which delayed her Australian Open warm-up. It wasn't exactly confidence-inspiring, but at least Sharapova knew how she sustained the injury. She knew how to fix it, and was able to work her way into form in Melbourne; Sharapova made it all the way to the finals.

This year, Sharapova's injury dilemma comes as more of a surprise. The Russian is suffering from a collarbone inflammation -- an injury that happened approximately ten days ago and forced her to miss a scheduled exhibition in Korea with Caroline Wozniacki.

Since the injury, Sharapova has barely hit a serve, and even though she's begun to hit overheads and serves in recent days, she isn't feeling ready for match play.

With just under two weeks to get her health in order, Sharapova once again finds herself up against a strict Australian Open deadline. And this time, at least until she starts hitting serves more regularly, she'll have to deal with the uncertainty of not knowing how the collarbone will hold up.

"I started practicing once I got here but I just couldn't serve much -- actually at all until yesterday," Sharapova said on Tuesday after announcing her withdrawal. "Just a couple of days of serving is not really enough to go out tomorrow and compete at a high level."

"It's feeling much better," she said, trying her best to downplay the situation. "Just inflammation."

Not surprisingly, Sharapova isn't totally jazzed about the recent developments. "You never know with these things," she said. "But when it started getting a little too painful I had to do a few tests... the doctor said I just had to calm it down, just like five days... when I started back here I was feeling much better but just like I said I couldn't do much overhead stuff."

Perhaps the rest and some extra time in the training room will help Sharapova work her way back into shape by late next week. But she'll have to be careful not to aggravate other areas of the body, especially if she is compensating for the pain in the collarbone.

When it comes to serve-related problems for Sharapova, caution has to be priority number one. The 2012 French Open champion missed ten months after a shoulder surgery in 2008, and spent most of 2009 getting to know her new shoulder.

"I think I just gradually have to progress with the amount I do," she said. "You can't just go from doing nothing for a week -- no serving, no overhead hitting -- to going out and playing a match," she said. "And I'm feeling so much better so I just don't want to jeopardize what I've built on."


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