Maria Sharapova expects to be back on the WTA tour at the start of 2009 and defend her Australian Open title after being sidelined since July with an injured right shoulder.
Sharapova's agent, Max Eisenbud, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that she is "on track" to return to action at the Jan. 7-10 exhibition in Hong Kong that she usually enters.
The three-time Grand Slam title winner then plans to head to the Australian Open, which begins Jan. 19 in Melbourne.
"She's doing good," Eisenbud said in a telephone interview. "Everything's on track."
Sharapova has not played competitively since pulling out of a tournament in Montreal in late July after winning a nearly three-hour match in which she double-faulted 17 times. The right-hander was examined by a trainer midway through the three-set victory, and she withdrew from the event before her next match.
Medical tests later found a torn rotator cuff tendon in the 21-year-old Russian's shoulder.
Sharapova missed the rest of the just-concluded season, including the Beijing Olympics and the U.S. Open, ending her streak of 23 consecutive major tournaments.
She hadn't missed a major since her Grand Slam debut at the 2003 Australian Open. Sharapova won the singles championships at Wimbledon in 2004, the U.S. Open in 2006 and the Australian Open in 2008.
While she briefly held the No. 1 spot this year, the time away led her to slide in the rankings and she finished the season at No. 9.
Sharapova went 32-4 with three titles in 2008, earning nearly $2 million in tour prize money.