Rome 1st Round Interview

Q. Not the easiest conditions to play today. Tricky conditions; tricky opponent. How happy are you with it in the end?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Yeah, tough, tough conditions. Long wait. Kind of felt like I played three different matches within the match because of the way the court played, the way she played, the shadows, the little bit of a breeze out there. So, a lot going on.
I think it was a really good way to end the match, to get that win. You know, to take care of those break points when it mattered. To save the break points on my serve.
Just felt like there were a lot of positives at the end of that match.

Q. Can you talk about when you hit with Rafa the other day, how did that come about? And what was it like?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Well, I saw he was practicing on the court right before me. And I said to my team, I was like, Wouldn’t it be amazing if I just came up to Rafa and said, Would you hit a couple balls with me? And they’re like, Yeah, what’s wrong with that? And I was like, a lot of things. There’s a lot of things wrong with just coming up to Rafa, (laughing).
They’re like, no, you should. I was like, really? You think I should? And so I did.
And he was, like, yeah. He probably thought I was really weird. I think he still thinks I’m really weird (laughing).

Q. I’m sure you’ve been on court after Rafa before in your life. What made this the right moment to pop the question?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: I was like —
Okay. Let’s not get crazy. Actually, that’s what they said. It’s not like you’re asking him to go on a date. You’re just asking him to hit a couple of balls with you (laughing).
I was like, Listen, you gotta hit a couple balls with Rafa on clay, you know. It’s like a check on the bucket list, definitely. Yeah.
I was so nervous. I was tight, really tight.

Q. How did you feel physically out there in the third set? You were massaging your left arm a bit. Was that a bit of a concern, or was it just —
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Yeah, I felt it a little bit, definitely.
But, you know, she made me hit a lot of balls. And just the type of player that she is. That’s the reason why she’s been doing so well and is seeded here and has the results she has. A lot of low balls.
Some of her slices were coming off – you know, especially that court, were staying so low. So I really had to work on, you know, had to work both of my ends today.

Q. One of the features of tennis is that you guys are essentially employers. You employ your own team. You re-hired your coach. I was wondering what the challenge is with being an employer and everyone in your team, you know, is, you know, on your payroll essentially?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: A lot. I mean, there very different dynamics and especially being, I guess, in a different sense a female that’s in charge of a team and boys on a team and most of the time a female that is younger than most of the team.
So, although you are the one that’s employing them and you are “the” boss, the reason you hire people on your team is to help you and help you succeed because of their expertise in their certain fields, specific fields.
It’s always – I mean, I faced that feeling in business, as well, not just in tennis.
And I think kind of having the confidence of knowing like what’s important to me and knowing, you know, that there’s a reason you hire them.
But, at the end of the day, things are your decisions. Not just because it’s financial but because of the work. Because you also experience, you know, what works for you.
A good question. It’s an interesting position, I think, in sport and in business.

Q. When your dad left the team, did you have that confidence level down?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: I think it was just me being, you know, being in a position where I really wanted to do it. I wanted to be successful without my dad there. And that was a very difficult decision. But I really felt like it was an independent decision.
And even though he was in my corner and still very much is still to this day, I just felt like it was an important — Like I won three Grand Slams and really wanted to do it without him there. It wasn’t hard feelings or …
Just a mature thing. I don’t need my father to be there. I’ve learned a lot from him, and I can do it on my own. I think it was just like a challenge I wanted to take upon.

Q. Do you have any special expectations for this tournament, or this tournament is exactly like all the others; thanks to the sponsor, the linesmen, the umpire, ball boys? Those similar speech that everyone does after each tournament.
MARIA SHARAPOVA: This tournament has been special in my career. It’s brought me a lot of great matches and a lot of match play toward the Grand Slam that we all look forward to playing. And usually is the last tournament that I play before Roland Garros. So, it is an important one.
But, I’ve also had very tough moments here, as well. I mean, last year was a very difficult, you know, situation to be in and going into that match.
I mean, I’m just a little bit more relieved this year. I feel like I’m a little – not thinking about things and just playing and not worrying about anything else. Which is nice.

Q. Whatever happens, happens.
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Excuse me?

Q. Whatever happens, happens. You don’t expect yourself to be much close to the end, the final, or just one match by game?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: I wish – I mean, I wish I could tell you.
Actually, I don’t wish. I think that’s the beauty of what we do is that you don’t really know. You know, you don’t know until you go out and you play and they put the nets up.
And you have to perform every day. And sometimes you feel your best and you play great and you come out losing the match; sometimes you don’t play so well and you end up winning the match.
You know, we say tennis brings you back to reality very fast, no matter how great or confident you feel. Every single day is a new day. And that’s part of the reason I keep loving this. There is nothing else that can give you that sense of reality that well.

Q. Playing Rafa on clay off your bucket list, what –
MARIA SHARAPOVA: To be fair, I didn’t really think that – I mean, I never thought that was on the bucket list until like 15 minutes before. And I was like, that would be pretty cool to check off.

Q. Is there anything, you know, you haven’t done yet that you still want to do, sort of more like that level, odd random little moments you’d like to have? You’ve been out here a long time and have done most things by this point, I would imagine.
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Yeah.
I love being around athletes. You know, even though I always say, Oh, I don’t, like, follow other sports. And, actually, I don’t very much.
But, I really – I always get nervous around other athletes. I think that’s a respect level. I love being in their presence. I love seeing their mannerisms. I love seeing their superstitions. I love seeing the way they approach the day, whether it’s before a game, their mentality.
I’ve gotten a chance to, you know, sit next to some amazing athletes in this world and just pick their brain. And that’s when I’ve really, like, learned a lot.

Q. Whose brain had the best pickings?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: What?

Q. Whose brain had the best pickings?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: I’d say maybe Aaron Rodgers and Tiger.

Q. Cibulkova next in the second round, so thoughts on playing her at this point in both of your careers.
MARIA SHARAPOVA: It’s been a while since I’ve played her. She’s always been a very tough opponent for me to play throughout my career. We’ve always had very difficult matches.
I think especially on clay. You know, she’s a grinder. She makes you hit a lot of balls.
But, I’m certainly not afraid of that. I shouldn’t be. I want to go into the situation where I should be ready to be capable of getting – – you know, making sure that I’m running for that other ball.
But, yeah, I’d like to see myself move forward a little bit more than I did today. You know, not waiting for the ball to keep coming back, not getting her back in point.
But, we’ll see.

Q. Maria, you just said you don’t really follow other sports much. But I’m wondering, are you looking forward to the World Cup in Russia at all? Will you be following it?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Not really. No.

Q. Did you ever play with Roger Federer, practice with Federer?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: No, I don’t think we have.
Oh. No, we didn’t practice. We had an event with Nike one year, so we played some mixed doubles together.
No, not one-on-one.
Played with Novak once.

Q. Are you going to ask?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: I don’t know. Who knows? I don’t know whether I’ll get the confidence to do it or I’ll just be shy.