Q. Compared to a year ago, how would you put your career, expectations? Roll it back a year and compare that to now.
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Yeah, well, uhm, last year didn’t start on the greatest note here in Australia. Besides that year, I’ve always felt really comfortable playing here, have had really good results. Obviously, it was disappointing to go out so early. You know, it happens. You move on. You try to learn as much as you can from it.
Yeah, you know, my ambitions are still very much there. You know, I’ve been a competitive girl ever since I was pretty much born. You know, I love the sport. Whether it’s a loss or a win, you know, I try to move on from that and, uhm, build on that, whether it’s little or big.
Q. How do you feel about your game now, where it is now? Is it a big improvement from a year ago with all your injuries behind you?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Well, the tournament hasn’t started yet. This is the time of year where, you know, you really see. For me it was a longer layoff than some others. It’s been a couple of months. I only played one event since then, since Beijing.
It’s a great place to see for everyone where their game is, what they need to work on, and try to build on from the first few rounds.
Q. You ended last season as you began it in the rankings. Does it surprise you it’s taken you so long to get back to where you used to be?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: I didn’t know what I would ever be when I was out of the game for a while. I didn’t know if I would ever be back. That was a challenge in itself, just to try to get myself, uhm, back to playing the sport again.
To be honest, on the way back, I never really thought about ranking ’cause every time I stepped on the court when I had an expectation of when I would be back, I would never reach that goal.
For me, it was just about going out there. It certainly took me a lot longer to get back to playing, you know, and the reaction, all the things that the sport requires you to do to get that back.
But it’s still coming along.
Q. In order for you to attain your goals this year, what really has to work well?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Uhm, you know, a little bit of everything, I guess. In terms of the game, I’m not going to change my game completely to suit certain opponents. I know what my strengths are; I know what my weaknesses are. I try to work on the things that need to be improved.
I think one of the things I lost by not playing for a while is the action/reaction in the game a little bit, almost like the hand eye coordination, letting things happen a little bit more by themselves and not worrying about things that happened maybe three points ago or so on. I think that’s the thing that takes most time.
Yeah, I certainly wish I could have played a little bit more last year. Those six or seven weeks, uhm, after Indian Wells, wasn’t able to play some of the bigger tournaments. But, yeah, hopefully this year will be different.
Q. After the season was over, how long did it take you to actually start looking ahead immediately? How much time did you spend reflecting on what happened during the year?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Uhm, you know, obviously you look back through it because you want to make adjustments to make yourself better, whether you finished the year 100 or whether you finished it in the top 10. Whatever it is, it’s always been part of me ever since I played. You finish. You only have a couple weeks off and you look towards something that’s going to make you better, that’s going to help you.
There’s always things to improve on. I don’t think anyone is perfect. I was sick for a while. I was supposed to play in Moscow. I really wanted to play there. I came to Asia. I wasn’t feeling that great. Just went home.
Q. What did you learn from Auckland?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Well, one of the things, like I said, it was great for me to have a little bit of a change. Kind of had the same routine throughout the years. I played three matches in quite different conditions. The last one was tough. My opponent played really good tennis. It wasn’t my best day.
But it was good. I got some good days. It was pretty warm up there in the first week. I got there a few days before and was able to train. Much left after Christmas.
Q. What expectations do you have for achieving in this tournament? Sounds like you don’t have high expectations. Is that fair to say?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: You know, while I’m my biggest fan, I’m also my biggest critic. I’m not going to sit here and say what my result is going to be because I don’t think anyone knows, including myself. That’s why we play the matches. That’s why the nets go up, the tennis cans are opened with the balls, you go out and play.
Whether someone has expectations on you, you don’t or you do, it doesn’t really matter. It’s all about going out there and trying to win.
Q. Does the fact that you won here before help your confidence?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Absolutely. No years take away from the year that you did so well here and you won. I played extremely great tennis throughout the tournament against really, really tough opponents. I had one of my toughest draws in a Grand Slam I ever played and got through it with really great matches.
Yeah, that’s definitely something you look back to, especially when you go out on that center court. You look back to the memories and the great times, yeah.
Q. Can you talk about your cooperation with your new coach and the way he helped Li Na with her serve, did that help you as well?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Yeah, I was really excited to bring someone into the team that, uhm, really first of all has a lot of experience behind his back, someone that’s really professional and goes about his business. I’m a pretty private person in many things. He sticks to his job. He’s out there to try to make me better in different aspects of the game. He did a great job with numerous amounts of players, with Tommy. I got to know him a little bit in Florida while he was working with Tommy. I knew him a little bit. My team got to know him. We started working in November. It’s been really good.
I think that his experience can definitely help me, a new voice. I worked with Michael and my dad for so many years, I think it’s just really positive to bring someone in.
Q. Chinese media said that Li Na saw the news from the newspaper first and then got the news from Thomas. How did you get started? Did your team make the approach?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: I actually didn’t hear anything about it. He was one of the people that I considered working with. Michael and my father, you know, wanted to bring in as well. Yeah, that was pretty much it.
Q. There’s always a lot of talk about the women’s tour being ‘wide open’. Serena’s not here. Is it really wide open or are there four, five, six players that could actually win this thing?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: I guess you could say it’s more open than some other years, some other fields. You never know. You can approach someone in the first round that doesn’t have a chance. You go out, they play some of their best tennis in their life, go on and win the tournament.
I don’t know, open or not, I don’t think it really matters.
Q. Do you ever hang out with Anna Kournikova?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: You’re the guy from New Zealand, huh?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Oh, God, you’re stalking me (laughter).
Q. It’s not stalking if you love someone.
MARIA SHARAPOVA: It can be slightly, trust me (laughter).
Q. Is there a hot Russians club where you get together?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: No. I didn’t know I was part of it. But no.
Q. What do you think of her career? She was photographed a lot, all that sort of thing. You’ve also gotten that sort of attention.
MARIA SHARAPOVA: I think she’s achieved incredible things in her career and brought a lot of attention to the sport, especially in our country. She was one of the first few from Russia to rise up and do really well. That brought so much attention that so many younger players started playing the sport. She did a tremendous amount of things for the sport.