NEW YORK, Aug 25 - They have five grand slam titles between
them, one each this year and one of them is the world No 1.
Yet on the eve of the U.S. Open, both Maria Sharapova and
Victoria Azarenka find themselves in the shadows, almost
forgotten as contenders for the final grand slam event of the
That's because Serena Williams will go into the event with
her dominance restored after her victories at Wimbledon and at
The American is everyone's favourite and while world number
one Azarenka was reluctant to admit to playing second fiddle,
Sharapova was more open about the predicament facing the rest of
"Of course she's the favourite because she won those two
big events back to back," said Sharapova, who was beaten by
Serena in the final of the Olympics.
"She gained a tremendous amount of confidence at Wimbledon,
getting through a few tough three-set matches and then when she
got to the Olympics, she just improved."
However, neither Sharapova nor Azarenka are willing to
throw in the towel just yet.
"Everybody is still in the draw here," said Sharapova, who
completed a career grand slam when she won the French Open in
June. "It starts from the first round on, and that's why
everybody is here."
Sharapova has not played since winning silver at the
Olympics but said she felt strong going into the event she won
"I feel really good," she said. "I was supposed to play in
Montreal but I got a stomach bug and just decided to give it a
"I think it was a sign my body just needed to slow down. It
was a lot of travel, a lot of playing. So I decided to shut it
down until here, because we still have a lot to play towards the
end of the year."
Azarenka, who lost the world number one ranking to
Sharapova in Paris but regained it at Wimbledon, said she was
focused solely on herself.
"I think it's your guys' job to pick the favourite and to
look at the draw," Azarenka said. "I never look at the draw.
"When I go into the tournament I'm trying to think just
about my opponent on that particular day."
Azarenka won the bronze medal at the Olympics and said she
had needed the rest to recover from the emotional and physical
"I was absolutely drained because I went through so much in
a few days, something that I have never been through before,"
"It took so much energy out. I'm glad I had an opportunity
to have a little bit of break and to make sure that, you know, I
can prepare for the U.S. Open as best as I can. I am feeling
(Editing by Steve Ginsburg)