Last season was one of long-delayed restoration for Sharapova. Since having surgery on her right shoulder in 2008, the former No. 1 had struggled with her serve, and her results had been just as shaky.
But with new coach Thomas Hogstedt, Sharapova steadied them both in 2012 and, at 25, after nearly a decade on tour, had her most consistent season while also completing a career Grand Slam with her first French Open title.
Best Case Scenario: In the age of Serena, it helps to have a little luck, in the form of an upset by, say, Virginie Razzano, to open up your path at a major. That's what Sharapova got at Roland Garros last year. Whatever happens against Williams and at the Slams in 2013, though, if Sharapova is as consistent as she was last season, she could finish the year No. 1. She won her last match against her other main rival, Azarenka, in Istanbul.
Worst Case Scenario: Was last year a restoration, or an aberration? Sharapova did, after all, have serving trouble and consistency issues for the better part of three years. Is she completely over them? If that shot does go wonky again, it could bring her whole game down to earth with it.
Australian Open Outlook: Sharapova steamrolled to a title Down Under in 2008, and has been to the final two other times, including last year. The slow hard courts suit her, and she comes prepared, even in the early season. Of course, her two final-round losses in Melbourne were at the hands of Serena and Vika, and neither match was close. She'll be ready, but she'll need help.