Q. It seemed like a lot of hard work, certainly in the first set. Talk us through that, then how you felt in the second set.
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Yeah, it was a lot of hard work. Obviously being down a break to start off both of those sets didn’t make things easy for me. Although I didn’t play at my best level in the first set, I pulled it through. I played some really tough points. I hung in there especially in that final game. Then I really set up a good opportunity for me to step up.
I thought I did a really good job of that, especially in the last six games. I was very aggressive, played deep, returned a lot better. That will certainly help me moving forward.
Q. In the second set you won 19 consecutive points at one stretch.
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Oh.
Q. Pretty cool.
MARIA SHARAPOVA: That is pretty cool. Doesn’t happen often, not with me (smiling).
Q. What do you think was the key during that stretch? Was it returning better and being aggressive?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Yeah, I think it’s always a thin line, especially in the altitude, with her serve. I think she likes that high bounce. She has bigger swings, especially after the forehand. She likes when the ball comes a little bit higher. Gives her a little bit of time to back up and get back in the court.
She’s a good player. I thought I really had to win the match today. I went in with that attitude. I think that was the best part of that match for me.
Q. A return has always been a very strong part of your game. How do you actually practice that? Hard to replicate in practice. Do you feel it’s something you’ve been trying to get back to the level you were at before?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Yeah, absolutely. I think a little bit of it is the reaction, is the hand-eye coordination. That’s something that you can’t really replicate in practice, like you said. You just got to keep playing matches. Problem with that is I really just haven’t.
Yeah, I think you always try to improve a little bit here and there. It’s always interesting how you go from tournament to tournament hoping, obviously as a goal, that you improve the things that maybe didn’t work out for you as well as you would have liked to. Then the result of seeing improvement is really nice to see because that’s what you really work for.
But, as I said, in the second set I think I put a lot of pressure on her in the return. That set up really good opportunities for me to open up the court and move forward.
Q. Coming up next you have an opponent with a fairly different game style in Kiki Mladenovic. Do you think that’s also going to be a good test for you to see where you are in terms of your movement, how far along you’ve come?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Yeah, definitely I think there’s a lot of variety off her backhand. She doesn’t like to hit through the backhand as much as she does on the forehand. You see a lot more of her, especially on the defense, slicing and dropshotting. That’s not a secret because we’ve played against each other a few times, even though it’s been about a year.
But, yeah, she also likes to play aggressive as well. I don’t think defense is really her ultimate style of play. I think she also likes to attack and prefers that, as well.
Q. On the match from Stuttgart against Kiki, coming out of that match, regardless of the result, did you get confidence knowing it was your first tournament, you had come in probably with a lot of matches, obviously a bit tired going into that match? What do you take out of that, even though it was 12 months ago?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: It’s really tough to look back and to remember where I was exactly. But I mean, based on what I remember, although it was a difficult match to lose, I think it was just nice to get that event out of the way, I guess, in many aspects. To play the amount of sets that I did there, four days in a row, especially not hitting one ball on-site until my first round.
I think there were a lot of – not just from that match – good things I took away. But obviously just the feeling of being back.
But, yeah, look, it’s been 12 months. I do consistently watch the game. I enjoy watching matches. I enjoy seeing how players go from a winning streak to having a tougher moment, to seeing how they come back. That’s kind of the flow and evolution of this game anyway.
Q. Since the Australian Open, it’s been a difficult time on the tour for you with injuries and stuff. How much of a relief is it to win back-to-back matches this week? How significant do you think it is for you?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: It is. I mean, obviously being healthy is extremely important. We speak about it a lot as tennis players because it’s just a big part of our job. Sometimes we all face those injuries. It comes with the territory. I don’t always like to talk about it because we all have our moments where we have to come through, go out on court not feeling 100%. It’s very rare when we do. I’m not unique in that position.
It just took time for me reevaluate where I was, where my body was. I also made changes within my team, especially in that period of time, which was not easy. As I said before: There’s never a bad time to make a good change. You do hope that those changes lead to better things and good things. It’s not because the past necessarily wasn’t working, but because you believe that there could be better things to come.
Q. I’d like to ask you how you feel your serve? I think in the match you have a low percentage of first serves, 58%. I think I saw seven doubles. How do you feel how is your serving? Are you working on something with it? It’s very important.
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Yeah, there are a lot of things that are important in tennis. The serve is definitely one of them. I guess 57 or 58% is better than 47%. Maybe if it was 60% you’d say that was a good percentage, so…
Those are very small margins. Sometimes that’s what it takes in tennis. Sometimes, as you know, it’s only a point here and a point there. Sometimes statistics don’t make a big difference and sometimes they do.
Yeah, I didn’t serve as well as I did I would say yesterday, but I did serve well when I had to. I go for my serves. That’s the way my game is. I definitely make more errors than other players on that side. But I’m an aggressive player. I’m there to win. I’m not there to let somebody hit a winner on it.
Q. You were joking yesterday when you said, There’s a lot going on around here in this tournament. These combined events, do you enjoy them or do you find it difficult to find a place, especially before matches? During Media Day you were reading a book. Are you able to zone out?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: I kind of zone out. I’m like, You guys do what you got to do. I’m getting ready for a match. I have a book to read, more important things going on here (smiling).
No, I think it’s important to kind of find your own space, especially as you’re focusing and getting ready to play. We all have our routines. It’s kind of what you know, what you do, what you’re comfortable with. It’s like, Why change them because there’s a media hour?
No, I’m pretty used to, like, having a lot of – I’m good at having horse blinders on, just doing my thing, getting ready for what’s ahead of me, which is most of the time a tennis match.
Q. May I ask what you were reading?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Well, I have two books. What was I reading yesterday? Oh, I was reading a book by Alan Watts. What is it called? Something ‘of Insecurity’.
Oh, my God, Alexander is going to kill me. I don’t know. I don’t have it with me. I can’t believe it. I’m freezing. But I’m reading Trevor Noah’s book and this one. It ends with something ‘Insecurity’.
Q. ‘The Wisdom of Insecurity’.
MARIA SHARAPOVA: High five. Free chocolate (smiling). I don’t know what I think about it, but I’m in the middle of it. Did you like it?
Q. Haven’t read it.
MARIA SHARAPOVA: How did you know about it?
Q. Google check.
MARIA SHARAPOVA: The cheater. Wow! Actually the whole book is about being in the moment, like not being on your phone. So that was great timing.
You still get chocolate for that (smiling).