All week on we'll be looking at some of the players who've been lifting their games on clay going into Roland Garros. Today, Maria Sharapova...
WTA Staff

She had some strong results on hardcourts - semifinals of Brisbane, Paris and Miami - but it was on clay that Maria Sharapova truly got back to her very best this year, and for that she's clearly one of the leading contenders for the big one - the French Open - which starts in less than a week.

Coming off of a four-month shoulder injury lay-off, it was probably too much to ask that Sharapova begin the 2014 season in top form - but as soon as the tour switched to clay, she came alive. After an absolutely epic first round victory in Stuttgart against Lucie Safarova she really started steamrolling, eventually winning 12 matches in a row en route to back-to-back titles in Stuttgart and Madrid.

"I really challenge myself to improve on clay courts because that was never my favorite surface in the beginning of my career," Sharapova said from Madrid. "I've done a really good job of transitioning from the hard to the clay and really improving physically and recovering well from match to match.

"I've benefited from that in the last couple of years. I enjoy playing on all surfaces. I like the challenges they all bring. But I'm really happy about changing my results on clay the last few years."

Going into her third round match against Ana Ivanovic in Rome, Sharapova hadn't lost on clay to anyone other than Serena Williams in almost three years - since the 2011 French Open she was 0-3 against Williams on clay, and 47-0 against everyone else. That came to an end against Ivanovic, though, as her fellow former World No.1 put on a dazzling display to snap Sharapova's winning streak.

But when it comes to Roland Garros, it really doesn't matter. Sharapova has had a love affair with the clay court Grand Slam the last few years - she completed her Career Grand Slam there in 2012, then reached the final there again in 2013 before falling in a very tight two-setter against Williams.

So where was the Russian's head at last Thursday as she booked her flight from Rome to Paris?

"I'm going to try to recover the next two or three days, settle down in Paris and get my body ready for a week of training," Sharapova said. "I'll have a week of training and I think it'll be very important.

"It's been such a routine the last few weeks, just matches and training without a day off in a while. It'll be nice to have one or two. You're so used to doing very similar things every day, and mentally you don't give yourself a break, but you have to do that so when you go on the court you feel fresh."

For a player who won so many matches without a break the last few weeks, that's a daunting prospect.

And no matter where she's seeded or where she is in the draw this year, she's clearly a contender.