Australian Open 1st Round Interview

Q. How did it feel to get back here and playing in the Australian Open?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Great. It felt really good. You know, every point was really important to me today. Didn’t know much about my opponent. Very strange, considering I have been on tour many years and hadn’t played her. She’s been around for a while, as well.
I felt it was a good warmup to what could possibly be a good match against my next opponent who I have had trouble with in the past. I wouldn’t say they play the same game but a lot of similarities. I felt it was a good warmup toward that.

Q. How did coming back here for the first time since what happened feel different to your return to Grand Slam action in New York?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: It felt pretty routine. I have been here a week, practicing on the courts. Got used to all the different weather conditions that Melbourne presents to all of us. It’s been good.
You know, I felt like I have got a lot of things out of the way physically and emotionally and mentally last year with – there was a lot of firsts again for me, playing the first tournament, first Grand Slam, and just different feelings and what it would be routinely. But it felt pretty routine today, just really happy to be back here.

Q. Do you get any flashbacks, saying, God, if that hadn’t happened here two years ago, it would be totally different?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: No, no. It’s not the way I look at things moving forward.

Q. Do you always look ahead at the draw, or is this something different? How does it affect your mindset when you view the draw? Because you knew who you were playing next possibly.
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Yeah, every draw is different and has its own challenges. And people are saying I have a tough draw. You know, personally these are the players that I want to be playing. I want to be playing someone that has challenged me. I want to be playing someone that’s on a hot streak and playing well. These are the players I should be playing and beating, as well.
I expect that from myself. I want to put myself in that position to play against them no matter who it is in the past and I look forward to doing in the future.

Q. Where do you feel your game is at in terms of where it’s been in the past?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: I feel like I’m building. I feel like with every tournament and every week I have different feelings about different things. Some things are coming a little slower than I wanted. Some things I feel good about.
Still feel like I’m building physically and getting the match play in. Yeah, overall, you know, I’m still — you know, I’m motivated to, with every week, to keep taking in what I have learned from that week and using it to my advantage in the following tournament. As long as I have that in my mind, it’s okay.

Q. How confident are you that you can win this tournament?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Um, I have heard that before (smiling). Look, I think confidence comes with time and with match play and putting yourself in situations where you’re able to take those opportunities.
I know that nothing will be handed to me or anyone. You have to work for every point in a match. It’s too far to tell. I’m not overly confident. I have expectations because of my previous results in my career, and I know at what level I can play and what tennis I can produce. But I’m also realistic, and the process of coming back takes time. I keep building and learning.

Q. Outside of tennis, your brand, Sugarpova, has been working with Alibaba in China. Tell us a little bit about Sugarpova and…
MARIA SHARAPOVA: It hasn’t been, has it? How have we been working together?

Q. You’re selling it on…
MARIA SHARAPOVA: We’re working on it. Yeah, not yet.

Q. No details yet?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: No.

Q. There is a bit of criticism that you were involved in the draw last week. Do you have any response to people saying you should or shouldn’t have been part of that event?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: I was invited to be part of the draw by Craig Tiley and the tournament organization, and I kindly accepted.

Q. And the critics? Do you have anything to say that you think they are wrong or…
MARIA SHARAPOVA: I don’t have anything to say to that.

Q. Not that this is really that, but obviously in the States there has been this whole “MeToo” with women. I’m wondering, A, your thoughts on that? And B, you have worked with corporations and everything. Have you ever – you don’t have to be specific — but had any incidents in your years?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: I have not personally, but I’m very well aware of everything that’s going on in all the different industries, and I have friends that are involved in the movement, as well, that I very much support. But personally, no, I have not been.

Q. A lot has been made about prize money in Grand Slams the last 24 hours, particularly on the men’s side of the tour.
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Just the last 24 hours? Sorry (smiling). Maybe 24 years, but…

Q. But do you think the prize money is equitable? Do you think players are getting their fair share or do you think the prize money should be boosted, particularly in Grand Slams?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Are we talking about a differentiation of men’s and women’s prize money or in general?

Q. In general. Obviously here at the Australian Open, take the women’s tour and the Australian Open, do you think there should be a greater share, more prize money for players?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Look, I think that Grand Slam revenues are doing quite well. I think the TV rights are extremely high at the moment.
If you’re doing well at a Grand Slam, I think you’re getting paid quite well. It’s a great payday, but you have to get there. You know, that doesn’t come overnight.
I mean, I think – I don’t think. I think it is growing and it’s getting better, and the revenue itself is growing. I think with that, I do believe that the players will ultimately earn more.

Q. You were in Shanghai last year attending a gala and you posted a picture with Jack Ma afterwards on Instagram, which caused a buzz on the Internet in China. I’m wondering, have you shared any conversation with him? What kind of experience…
MARIA SHARAPOVA: I feel like I have been in China a lot in the last two months, four different cities in probably three or four months, two different visas. It’s been a lot of travel there, but the experience itself and being part of that show for Jack Ma was quite unique and something I can do only in the offseason.
It was great to meet someone that’s obviously taken something from just an idea and made it as successful as he has. I really respect people with a mind that are able to just transform something and that the Internet has become such a phenomenon in China. We are currently in negotiations of working with Sugarpova through Alibaba, so that is in the process of work.

Q. Your next match. What will be the mindset? Changing anything? Have you watched previous matches?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: I missed a lot of swing volleys at the US Open. Just going back home, my father made me hit swing volleys till I was blue in the face. Also the match point in Beijing, I felt like I did improve on that and was moving forward and being a little bit more consistent.
But, yeah, it’s not an easy match, not an easy match for anyone, especially for an aggressive player like I am. You know, she’s an opponent that tests my patience, and I’m willing to be there and out there for as long as it takes.

Q. In terms of your return, how you have been received by fans and your fellow competitors, how have you found that?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: I feel like the reception has been really warm throughout all the tournaments. The crowd and the fans and all the different cities that I have competed in have been great.

Q. Was there concern about the reception when you came back? Were you concerned personally about how you would be received?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Honestly, you know, I think I made a choice by coming back and by playing again. With that choice I know that I face difficulties and challenges on the court and that I start from no ranking and that I might start on some outside courts, and I understand that and that’s part of the process, and I’m here to work through that.
I learned what it feels like to be on the ground and seeing life from the ground, and I’m not shy, I’m not shying away from any part of that. I love what I do. I’m a competitor and that’s why I continue to do it and where I think I display that. The moment I don’t have that anymore will be a moment I won’t play.

Q. Yesterday Schiavone told me that she was wrong last year to say maybe it would have been the last year of her career, because she says she likes to play as much as she enjoys. Do you see yourself to do the same and maybe playing still when you’re 37 years old, or do you think that’s almost impossible?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: I don’t know what’s possible and what’s not. I don’t want to guess. I think when I was a teenager I didn’t think I’d be playing past 30. Absolutely not. And here I am.
As long as my body continues to listen at certain times and continues to take on whatever it is, whatever matches that I’m able to play back to back, tournaments, as long as I can handle that and still have the ability and motivation to keep going, I will. But I think I might surprise myself on when I will finish, and I don’t know when that will be.