Low-key evening practice for Sharapova (pics)

BRISBANE, Australia – Here’s the crazy thing.

The last time we saw Maria Sharapova at a tennis tournament was … all the way back in August.

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The longtime star, who has been struggling with injuries – mostly her serving shoulder – for much of the period since she returned from her doping suspension – had the misfortune to draw Serena Williams in the first round of the US Open.

It didn’t go well.

And she hasn’t been seen in an official match since then, despite making every effort to play last fall.

She took a wild card into Brisbane this week, and will try to get back into gear.

Here’s how Sharapova looked Sunday night during a low-profile hit at the Queensland Tennis Centre.

First official tournament in five months

Sharapova did play an exhibition match against Ajla Tomljanovic at the Abu Dhabi men’s event a few weeks ago. But she withdrew from another exhibition event in Hawaii before taking the wild card into Brisbane this week.

She arrived on site already kitted out in … what is that? A skort? A half-skirt, half-culotte concoction? (We’re skeptical).

No need to stop in the locker room to change; Sharapova headed right out to one of the covered outdoor courts here that will serve as the main show courts for the Premier WTA tournament’s big stars until the ATP Cup men move on.

She worked on her serve, and some returns, before perhaps 20 people.

It’s about as low-profile as you can get for Sharapova, still only 32 but currently ranked No. 133.

Sharapova

A year ago, she was the No. 5 seed at the Shenzhen event, ranked No. 29. Seeded No. 30 at the Australian Open, she reached the fourth round and lost to Ashleigh Barty. She played just six more tournaments the rest of the season.

Not that the ranking points are too material these days for Sharapova, who can’t stay healthy enough, for long enough, to string tournaments together. But she’s defending 300 of her 466 total points during the Aussie summer.

Without them, she’s outside the top 300.

Her first-round opponent in Brisbane will be a qualifier. And if she can win it, she would face world No. 1 Ashleigh Barty.

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