Maria Sharapova will give top priority to the defence of her Wimbledon title this year after insisting the world number one ranking can wait.

"Being number one is not for this year, I don't think," Sharapova told Reuters yesterday. "For this year, I would love to defend Wimbledon. It's what drives me."

"My main goal is to be number one in the world of course," added the Russian, who is playing at this week's Pan Pacific Open tournament in Tokyo.

"But if it's not tomorrow, or not in a year then, you know, if it will happen it will happen - if not, whatever."

Sharapova was less ambivalent when asked about her fierce rivalry with Serena Williams, who she beat in last year's Wimbledon final and at the season-ending WTA Tour Championships.

But the world number four squandered match point in a 2-6 7-5 8-6 loss to Williams in last week's Australian Open semi-finals, leaving them tied at two apiece in their head-to-head record.

"With Serena, it probably is the biggest rivalry (in women's tennis) because we have such great matches," said the 17-year-old. "It's great for the game. It's amazing."

Williams rose from seventh to second in the rankings after beating Lindsay Davenport in the Australian Open final to win her seventh grand slam title.

"It was good experience," Siberian-born Sharapova said of the match against Williams. "Obviously, it was disappointing to lose when you're a point away from winning the match. But you know, I have no regrets.

"I still have a lot to learn. Next time, I'll know I've been in this situation and I think I'll be a little smarter."

Sharapova has received a frenzied welcome in Japan, with reporters tripping over themselves to get near her, forcing the teenager to seek sanctuary in a Tokyo temple earlier this week.

But the Florida-based player, a part-time model who, like Williams, also has ambitions as a fashion designer, has made it clear she is in Japan on business.

"It's exciting," said Sharapova. "But whoever's across the net, I want to beat them - no matter how small or big, or difficult or easy they are."

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