By Ciaran Baynes
BRISBANE, Jan 3 (Reuters) - Maria Sharapova's pain at losing a 14th straight match to nemesis Serena Williams will be eased by the thought that she can compete at the highest level again after being sidelined for four months with a shoulder injury.
Before this week at the Brisbane International, Sharapova had not played since August when a shoulder problem forced her out of the U.S. Open.
Although the 6-2 7-6 (9-7) defeat to her rival will sting, she admitted showing she can mix it with the best player in the world is more than she could have hoped for coming into the tournament.
"I really have to take the positives out of this because I have been struggling for a few months," she said.
"To be able to come out on the court and put myself in good positions out there against someone that's been playing amazing tennis is a good sign for me.
"(I am) happy that I can compete at this level in my third match back.
"It was tough not seeing my name in the draws and tough seeing everybody playing tournaments and you're just kind of going about trying to find a way to heal an injury and a bit unsure when that will happen.
"(There were) a lot of question marks."
Despite being pleased with her overall performance, Sharapova knows Williams is unlikely to land her first serve just 40 percent of the time if they meet in Melbourne Park later this month.
While Sharapova was more consistent with her first serve, she concedes it was not threatening enough, leading to Williams breaking her on six occasions.
"That first ball is extremely important and something I hope to work for in the future," she said.
"If I want to have a chance to beat Serena I have to get myself in the match and I have to raise my level." (Editing by Pritha Sarkar)