Photo: Paul ZimmerMaria Sharapova (RUS)
It seems hard to believe that Maria Sharapova, who burst onto the scene eight years ago by winning the Wimbledon singles title as a 17-year-old, is yet to make her Olympic debut, but that’s exactly the situation ahead of London 2012.
Having completed her career Grand Slam at Roland Garros last month, Sharapova is now getting ready to play at the Olympic Games for the first time, and the Russian is excited about fulfilling a life-long dream.
"It's been a dream of mine since I was very young," she said.
"Tennis in Russia when I was growing up till the age of seven was not very big. Over the years, you've seen how successful it has become in my country and now how important it is to be a tennis player as part of the Olympics.
"Also it will be my first one and something I've dreamed of since I was a young girl, so I really can't wait."
At the last Olympics in Beijing, Russia made a clean sweep of the women's singles medals with Elena Dementieva, Dinara Safina and Vera Zvonareva winning gold, silver and bronze respectively.
At this year’s Games, Sharapova will line up in the singles alongside fellow Russians Zvonareva, Nadia Petrova and Maria Kirilenko. In the doubles, Petrova and Kirilenko are teaming up, as are Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina.
Sharapova, on her Olympic debut, will have the honour of carrying the Russian flag at the opening ceremony. She found out she had been chosen while competing at Roland Garros in Paris.
"It was huge. I had to read the text message five times and read it to other people to make sure I got it correct. I got it after my third round at the French Open saying if I would do something like that. I was very happy to accept."