NEW YORK (AFP) - Maria Sharapova could not bear to watch last year's US Open and add the agony of her absence to the pain of rehabilitating her injured right shoulder. "I was in the physical therapy office every single day and the tennis was on, but I made a point not to watch it," Sharapova said. "When you're not participating in a tournament that you very much love and you've had success at as an athlete, to not be there and not be competing is pretty tough, watching others compete, knowing you're not in the draw." But the 22-year-old Russian beauty, a former world number one and three-time Grand Slam champion who won the 2006 US Open, is back at Arthur Ashe Stadium this year with her shoulder fit and her eyes on winning another major crown. Sharapova, seeded 29th, beat Bulgaria's Tsvetana Pironkova 6-3, 6-0 in a first-round match Tuesday, improving to 23-7 on a season that began in May and includes hardcourt runs to the Los Angeles semi-finals and Toronto finals. "I've just been thrilled I can play these matches, beat these girls that have been playing all year long and had really good results," Sharapova said. "With every match I've learned a lot and I've stepped it up. I certainly feel like I'm cutting down on the errors and getting the confidence back." Sharapova returned at Warsaw in May and reached the French Open quarter-finals but was ousted in the second round at Wimbledon. She had one tuneup event for each as opposed to the three she has had before the US Open. "I've been fortunate I've been able to play as many matches as I have," she said. "In Toronto I played six matches in seven days. I don't remember the last time I did that, maybe when I was a junior or something. Oh that was fun." Sharapova had had to make adjustments to allow for longer recovery time in anticipation of a Flushing Meadows fortnight. "It takes me a little bit longer for my arm to recover after such a long week, which I'm not used to," she said. "My arms, when I would play really long matches, that was the last thing that would either bother me or get sore. "So that's kind of a little bit of a new stage for me, dealing with that and really being smart on the practice court. "I still have to work on my strength and do my program every single day of last week, but also I want to go out on the court and hit tennis balls. It's a compromise. It's something that's definitely new in my career, but that's OK." Sharapova has changed her service motion to ease the load on her shoulder. "By the time I would get to the hitting position, my rotator cuff would be out of place because I'm so mobile," she said. "With a shorter motion it doesn't have so much room to move around. It's a little bit more stable in its socket."