Maria def. Anastasija Sevastova (LAT) (16) 7-6 5-7 7-6
Q. 5-2 up, two match points down, what was the mindset at the end? Looked like mid tiebreak something switched.
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Yeah, I was thinking about it a little too much. I think in that moment, she definitely had the momentum at the end of the second. I think things just changed a little bit. I felt really good going into the third. It was almost like I did a little too much, went for a little too much, just wasn’t smart in those moments. That caused me to play on, to say it lightly (laughter).
Q. The last tiebreak was really close, and you hit some really big shots, saved match point with a winner. What was going through your mind in the last tiebreak?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: I mean, I guess it’s been a while since I’ve been in a third-set tiebreaker. On one side I felt like I shouldn’t have been in that position. But then when you are in that position, you try to do everything you can to make it go your way. You know you had chances and you just feel like the momentum is all on her side and you’re just facing so much.
I was happy that I was still moving forward. I went for my shots. I had a big backhand down the line. Hit a great forehand on the run as a winner on match point. So I didn’t give in, which I think is a really good sign considering it’s been a few weeks since I played and she was someone I lost to in my previous match. It’s always nice to come out with a win, no matter how you do it, especially when you lose to an opponent previously.
Q. How pleased are you with yourself in terms of picking up your game since returning to tennis?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: I understand that it’s a process. It’s part of coming back and facing these types of matches. Physically the last match against her at the US Open was challenging for me. I played a lot of three-set matches. From an emotional perspective, a physical side, there’s just a lot that I was facing. I just didn’t have it in the end of that match.
I made a lot of errors, lots of swinging unforced errors. Last week my dad and Alex had me hit swinging volleys till I was blue in my face. When I saw the draw, Of course. As if they knew I was going to be playing her (laughter).
You come out of a match like that knowing what you need to work on, and I did. It was really close today. Coming out of it and having a chance to keep going is a positive, absolutely.
Q. What kind of role did the fans have in your game?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Well, it’s been a really special reception. Today was the first practice I had on the outside courts. Seeing them, just seeing the signs and the effort that they put into making all of that, all the books that they have. I guess shipping is quite fast to China. Some countries I see fans still waiting for the book, but here I signed quite a few copies. That was special.
It’s nice to see people appreciate your work, something you’ve done for a long time. They’ve been so supportive. I haven’t been here in a few years, since I won, so it’s really nice being back.
Q. You spent three hours on the court today. Big training block before coming. How do you feel spending that much time on the court?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: I felt fairly well toward the end of it. I wouldn’t say I had a big training block. For me it felt like a big press tour. But according to book publishers, it wasn’t that big. I don’t know what they’re talking about, but I don’t know, I felt like I was pretty busy for a few days. I guess you do that for a month when you’re releasing a book.
I came back, spent about a week on the court with my dad and Alex. I think it was more about building a base, feeling good. I faced a few injuries during the Open and before. I felt like it was really nice to just be able to do a good building block during that time, come here fresh, finish off the season.
Q. After staying away from the game for 15 months, how much would that make you cherish every minute you spend on the court compared to the past?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Yeah, so much. I’ve spoken about it quite frequently because definitely there’s a different perspective and understanding of fans, of what they mean to me, of little things. I think when you do something for many years, you start following a routine, and everything just becomes Groundhog Day. Of course, winning is very special. When you lose, it’s tough, and you have to move on. You have to build on and work on things that didn’t work out for you.
It’s been nice to recognize what it really means to me. I think sometimes it’s natural, because we’ve done it for so long. You do take it for granted because it’s a cycle of 10 months out of year. We compete and play tournaments. When you’re not part of that, you get it back, it’s the little things that really get me excited.
When I was at the US Open, I talked about being happy to have my first practice on center court. Because of injuries and not playing the last 15 months, not having the chance to practice on that court, just getting out there, I was just really, really happy. So those things. Noticing that excitement, I think it’s a really good sign for me mentally. A lot of this game is mental. To have the drive to continue to do it after you’ve achieved things in your career, they’re nice to recognize personally.
MARIA SHARAPOVA: That’s not really the way I think. It’s I think it’s important to keep going, to keep playing matches. As much as we say it’s a nice break for the body and I’m able to hear the things that maybe were bothering me for a period of time, at the end of 2015, it’s also a bit of a shock to the system when you come back.
The physicality of tennis, you can’t really replicate it. That’s something that you just adjust to. It doesn’t come easy. It doesn’t come easy for me. It doesn’t come easy for anyone. It takes a matter of time. It takes a lot of matches.
That’s why matches like this, ups and downs no doubt, but when you get through and give yourself a chance, you see your name going further in the draw, it’s only a good sign.
Q. You came back to Beijing to the China Open again. How do you feel? How do you feel about the time on the court?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: As I said, I left this city with very good memories, being a champion, winning against Kvitova. To come back, have a nice turnout for a first-round match was very special. I hope I can continue that.