Australian Open Pre-Tournament Interview

Q. Couldn’t ask for a better start to the season. What caused the change and logic of playing warmup tournaments before the Australian Open, because you didn’t used to do it?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Yeah, I started my career playing a little exhibition tournament in Hong Kong. I guess when that was canceled, doing a tournament was the next option. I had been meaning to play Brisbane for many years. I think the first few I couldn’t play because of injury. So this was only my second time there. It was a great start. It was a good few matches for me. Felt quite good. You never know how things are going to shape up after an off-season. You obviously want to transition the things that you worked on and bring it onto the court. But I played quite solid. I did the right things. Had a tough final, as well, which was good for me to have. Yeah, and a victory at a tournament I never won before, so that was extra special.

Q. Have you worked on something different in the off-season, something you wanted to change in your game, different goals?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Well, I was happy to be in one place for the whole month of December. I didn’t travel much. I did a few around-the-worlds in November. It was actually great to settle down. My team came down all through the holidays for those many weeks. It felt good to kind of create a base for this upcoming season. Last year my off-season, a lot of it had to do with rehab and getting myself healthy. This year I felt like I could really train and push myself a little bit more physically. I think last year, especially towards the end of the season, you saw how physical and how well everyone was moving, especially with the courts being a little bit slower towards the end of the season. I wanted to feel that I was ready and fit for the beginning of this year, try to be as healthy as possible towards all of it.

Q. How much has fitness changed in the last 10 years compared to when you came up at Wimbledon? Has the tour grown in leaps and bounds as far as the physicality?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Uhm, definitely. I think you see a lot more people added to the team as far as a fitness coach. I mean, you didn’t see that 10 years ago as much. You know, I have a fitness coach. He doesn’t travel with me full schedule. It’s a pretty limited schedule. He’s always with me during the training weeks away from the tournaments. Never feel there’s too much you can do during a tournament week as far as really setting up a base. It’s more about recovery and getting ready. But the physical aspect of the sport has become, I think, very, very important. It’s always been, but I think it’s become more important than ever.

Q. Did you learn anything from Brisbane and that week about the state of your game, or is it just confirmation of where you thought you already were?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: I mean, every week’s a surprise, I guess, for every individual. You can’t be overly negative; you can’t be overly positive. You just have to take things as they come. Like I said, I wanted to start off well. I thought I did many things well. But, you know, I’m not going into next week throwing flowers at myself or anything. I’m starting from scratch. I’m hungry. I’m determined to do better. I lost in the fourth round here. That’s not a result I want. I want to do much better. I’m here to try to win the title.

Q. Do you consider yourself the woman to beat for the title here?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: I’m sure I’m one of them, definitely. I mean, I’m No. 2 in the world. I’ve had a great season last year, winning a Grand Slam. I think there are a lot of players that have an opportunity to win this tournament, and I’m certainly one of them.

Q. You have a shot at the No. 1 position. Is it still a big motivation for you to be back as No. 1 in the world or is winning Grand Slams at this time of your career more important?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Yeah, that was a question that was nice not having to answer in December (smiling). Yeah, I mean, look, obviously No. 1 is a ranking that every single player wants to grab and works so hard for. There’s a lot of players that have an opportunity to get there, and I’m one of them. I am, of course, determined to do that. But by doing that you need to win more matches than the person that’s in the first place. So that’s the goal.

Q. I heard many players say that the court is too quick. The weather this year is better. For you, what do you think about it?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Yeah, I actually think all the three show courts that I’ve practiced on so far have been a little bit different, but all a bit faster than last year, which I actually quite like. As far as the weather, it’s been a nice week. But next week I’m sure will warm up. It’s sort of the pattern of Melbourne over the years. One week can be a bit cooler, and the next it’s warm. I think we just have to take what’s ahead of us.

Q. As a human being, would you rather be in the middle of a tournament playing with the pressure of a Grand Slam tournament or would you rather be home kicking back, having wine, looking at the ocean?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Well, the great thing is I have a choice.

Q. Which makes you happier?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: The best thing is that I’m here. That makes me even happier, that I have a choice. But the best part about it is that I have the opportunity to go out and try to win this tournament. I set myself in that position, which I’m very happy about. It is sometimes nice to think that I could be on the couch watching on TV. I don’t know if I’d actually be watching, but… Yeah, I don’t know if I’d be drinking wine. Maybe a sangria actually.

Q. You’re talking yourself into it.
MARIA SHARAPOVA: I don’t know, it sounds so good. But when you’re holding the trophy, God, you can have as many sangrias as you want and you’re in it. So that sounds a lot better.

Q. Which player has impressed you the most over the past few months leading up to the tournament?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Over the past few months? I mean, that’s quite a general question as there’s a long break in between the last tournament and the couple tournaments in the past weeks. Usually when I’m at a tournament, I watch the players that are at the tournament because that’s what’s shown on the local TV. I follow their results, but I don’t go out and specifically watch the matches. It’s tough for me to tell.

Q. We’ve started to see on the women’s side these former champions coming in. What do you make from that, from your point of view?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Well, I think from experience-wise, there’s no better person that can help you in certain situations as a coach, as a motivator, as someone that just has been there, done that. I think it’s great to see. I think it’s always nice when you’ve been through a career and you have the opportunity or you have the desire to share it with other players, to share your knowledge and experience. I think it’s great.

Q. You didn’t do anything like the IPTL in the off season.
MARIA SHARAPOVA: I did actually. I did two matches in Manila.

Q. You felt good about that, being away from being in this one place?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Being in one place?

Q. You were talking about being happy to be in one place.
MARIA SHARAPOVA: That was in November. I played two matches for IPTL in November. Actually had a great experience, a great time. For an event that had its first year, I thought it was very well-organized, very professional. I think it was great to see tennis being brought into markets which have never seen professional sport like that before, and stars. I think their excitement was unreal. I mean, I felt like a rockstar literally, to put my feet on the ground the day after. It was really fun to see the excitement that people had. The format was fun. It was fast. A lot of the players took it very seriously. I mean, I came in after not practicing for many weeks. I was like, Okay, I’m going to take it easy. Some of the doubles players were really into it, which was great to see. So, yeah, I think personally I would never do the whole tour. It’s quite long. But I think to the girls that did, and guys, you see some were injured at the end of it, which is quite unfortunate. But to go out and to play a few matches in a market that’s never seen high-quality tennis before, very open to it.

Q. What is the best game you remember here in the Australian Open?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: I’ve had a lot. My best game? Obviously, the one that sticks out is my victory. Winning a championships is a big moment, especially a Grand Slam. It was my third Grand Slam in my career. I thought throughout the two whole weeks, it was some of the best tennis that I played. I had one of the toughest draws in a Grand Slam. I actually thought the final wasn’t my best match throughout the tournament. But overall I came through a lot of challenges. Yeah, it’s tough to choose.

Q. Are you thinking about the Olympic Games in Brazil?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Of course.

Q. Gold medal?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: I think many of us do. It’s quite a special occasion. I mean, very special to me just because I grew up with that culture, the meaning of the Olympics being so special. I had a great experience in London. It was my first-ever Olympics. I would definitely love to have a similar, maybe even better, experience in Brazil.