Q. You finished the match with a big smile. What inside this big smile in that moment?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: I would hope after three hours and winning this match that I would smile. It’s always, you know, nice to have a battle with a few ups and downs and finish strong to get through a match like this against a really high-quality opponent. And to end up winning it, you know, quite proud of the effort.
You know, I didn’t have a great first set. But then, you know, kept going, kept going and made her think a little bit in the second.
Again, a few ups and downs in the third. So, yeah, lots to smile about in the end.
Q. First set was pretty lopsided until it wasn’t. What were you able to do to change and get a foothold?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Well, it was lopsided with one break. And I felt like I wasn’t returning very well. I didn’t get over the second serve, even though I was getting looks at them. Just wasn’t doing enough with it.
So I knew that if I, you know, stayed in there, if I put that little score pressure on her, I would keep getting those looks and keep creating those opportunities. And I think I did.
Q. Maybe took some time to get used to the trajectory of her ball a bit more? Did it take you a bit longer to get used to it? Because it’s very flat. Sometimes on the forehand, very late. You have to figure out when she’s going to go with it. Did you try to figure it out more?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Yeah. I mean, I would say it’s a little bit untraditional, in terms of the style and strokes, the way she comes through the ball.
And on this court particularly, I thought it stayed very low today. And maybe that was, you know, a little bit of footwork and not adjusting well. But, yeah a little bit of everything from her.
And from my end, as well. I wasn’t sharp. I wasn’t quick. I wasn’t moving back and forth. And, yeah, those things lead to not being in a good situation in a match.
Q. After beating the Roland Garros champion, which level do you think you are now? A little bit behind what you imagined to be, a little bit tired?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Every day is different; every opponent is different. And it doesn’t matter, you know, how you felt today. If you give yourself an opportunity to go out on the court tomorrow, you have another challenge and another opponent ahead of yourself.
You know, I think looking back to the last few weeks kind of where I started in Stuttgart to having a tough three-set match loss there in the first round to coming to Madrid to not like physically pushing through that last match that I lost and coming here and, you know, having some very physical tough first couple of matches and then going deep in the third today and following through, I think that’s the type of progression that I want to see for myself.
I put myself in that position and then see where I can go. And I felt like today was just a step in the right direction of, you know, mentally getting through, of being there, of challenging her, no matter what the level was at certain parts of the match.
Q. You could play Simona Halep in the next round. You’ve already had three deciding sets here in Rome. The last two matches against her you won in three sets. How would you describe this matchup?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: It’s a tough matchup, no matter what part of the tournament you play her at. I think she’s been one of the most consistently competitive, great results in the last few years.
You know, she’s No. 1 in the world right now, or 2. And, I mean, that speaks for itself in terms of what kind of player she is and has been for a while.
And, of course, that’s challenging deep into an event, particularly when I’ve already had four matches, very long matches. She’s had a little less play time.
But, yeah, I mean, they still haven’t played the match. There’s still another opponent in play today, so …
Q. On the previous year, you had a special visit to coliseum. On the last days, you had time to make something special here in Rome, or just training and playing?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: I attempted to go out one afternoon, and I was looking for a restaurant. But I arrived at 4:00 p.m., and apparently every restaurant in Rome is closed after 3:30 until 7:30.
Then I found a pizza place. And I walked out with a piece of pizza. And there was a paparazzi in front of me. And that’s when I called Uber and went back to my hotel.
So, that was my touristy adventure in Rome.
Q. I’m sorry. Do you have more? Go ahead.
MARIA SHARAPOVA: No. I just thought I would contribute more, but that’s enough.
Q. Thomas Hogstedt had a big reaction after. I don’t know if you were looking at him when you won. But is it like riding a bike being back with him and what’s the sort of renewed chemistry like and do you feel like –
MARIA SHARAPOVA: I’m not sure if I can compare being back with Thomas as riding a bike. ‘Cause I’m not good at riding a bike, first of all (laughter).
Q. Well, you seem to be good at playing with him as a coach. Let’s just use that analogy, if it’s an analogy. What has it been like re-pairing up with him, and do you think getting back with him has helped with these improved results over the last couple of weeks?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Yeah. I mean, there’s been a lot of great things that he’s brought, you know, back to me.
And, you know, as I mentioned before, sometimes it’s not – you make those changes not necessarily because things that were said or done weren’t right.
But sometimes, the delivery or – or a little bit of a shake-up just gets to you in a different manner.
And, you know, I respect him a lot as a coach. I think he is one of the best coaches on the tour. He certainly has the experience. He’s been with a lot of players, kind of, you know, moved around.
But I love the work ethic that he brings. I mean, he’ll be here the whole day. You know, all that matters is the next match. You know, he brings the energy in practice.
And it’s just – it is nice to have a familiar face in your corner that you’ve had success with that has seen you also have dips and tough matches. And I think both of you learn from those experiences.
But, it’s been really good. It’s been – You know, I think we’ve also learned a lot about each other. I think in the past the personality aspect was something a little difficult, something I talked about in my book.
But I think you learn and you grow. And I think the effort that he’s been able to bring every single day to just -the belief that he has in me as a player, as a person, is tremendous. And someone that can bring that every day, that’s a great momentum to have.
Q. I know it was discussed earlier. But now that Serena seems like she is going to play a Grand Slam again, what’s your view whether she should be seeded or not? Should there be just a special ranking rule but a special seeding rule?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: It’s a tough call. You know, I would like to see that change. I think that would be nice.
I think it’s such an incredible effort for a woman to come back from – physically/emotionally to come back on tour, having a child. I think it’s just another whole dimension to the travel, to the experiences, to the emotions, to the physicality of every single day.
You know, tennis is such a selfish sport. But I think when there’s a child in your life, you know, you lose a little bit of that because there’s something that’s so much more important.
So, yeah, I definitely would be – I think that would be a nice change.
Q. Today’s matchup, the one you just won, was between the youngest and the oldest player left in the draw.
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Oh, thank you.
Q. That was not my point, sorry. I didn’t know how to phrase it any better.
MARIA SHARAPOVA: A great way to put it (laughing).
Q. How does it feel to be like considered –
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Old?
Q. – sort of old tennis-wise but still a young person in real life? Isn’t it weird?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Thank you. God, you just turned that around, immediately (laughing).
So many of you have seen me grow on tour from being a young girl to, you know, being successful to overcoming challenges and injuries and all else.
And so, yeah, I feel like I’ve been here many years. And a part of me loves that feeling.
I mean, I – you know, I know there’s another life apart from, you know, this career, this amazing career that I have that I certainly want to explore and know more of. But until then, I love what I do.
And I have to keep being youthful, I have to keep feeling young. Because as you said, there are a lot of young players coming up that have a lot of drive and energy. And ultimately, they’re going to take your place. That’s not a secret. But until then, you know, you still want to leave your mark.
Q. Speaking of age, Jelena won the French Open at 20 and she’s, what, the youngest person to do it in some time. As someone who won a Slam at 17, people generally think that those days are over. Do you think, having seen how tennis has progressed since 2004, that it would be possible still for someone as young as you to do it?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: I mean, based on facts maybe we can say, yes, it’s happened in the long time ago. But, I would love to see it again. I think there’s something — there’s a new energy and a new fresh breath of air when that happens. Particularly when someone’s not expected to win and finds a way.
You know, I speak a lot about, you know, overcoming the challenges of a Grand Slam, whether you’re a favorite or not. There’s so many things that go into a 14-day event, 15-day if you’re at the French Open.
But from the emotional aspect to the, you know, how you carry yourself, how you like raise your level. So a lot of those things have to come together. Sometimes a little bit of luck, as well.
But, I would love to see that again. I think it adds another like fun element to the sport.
Q. You seem to be in a much better mood than you were maybe a year ago on tour. Generally, looser. Do you feel that? How would you describe where your head’s at right now this week?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: (Laughing.)
Q. I’ll take that as a “yes. “
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Oh, gosh.
I mean, I don’t – you know, kind of that – I was definitely – you know, it was my third event back. And there’s a lot going on, and that’s – I’m not shying away from that.
There’s a lot around me, there’s a lot of questions in the air, a lot of press conferences, a lot of noise. And at the end of the day, all I was trying to do was just play tennis ’cause that’s the only reason I came back.
But you just realize that with time, with more tournaments, you know, you continue to put in the work, you continue to be professional, you continue to show up every single day, whether it’s, you know, you’re something passionate about or you’re not, you have to show up.
We all have jobs; we all have lives.
And, you know, I found a way to get through like a fairly challenging time in my career. And I appreciate this chapter so much more because I still have a lot of passion for what I do. In training. And I’ve had a very few tough months this year already.
To get through that … You know, you asked me why I smiled at the end of the match. It’s like if you’re not smiling after all the crap that you’re able to go through and you keep pushing yourself and you keep delivering and then you get moments like where you have two match points and you like hit the bottom of the net and then you create more opportunities and then you get it done, yeah, shit I’m gonna smile. You know what I mean? It’s like, yes.
So I realize these are special moments. And I’m definitely more toward the end of my career than I am at the beginning. And I appreciate this chapter. I don’t know how it’s going to end, but I sure hope it’s on my terms.
Q. Clay, once again, is a surface that helps you to get to your best level. Why do you think that is? And do you remember a moment where your career, your relationship with the surface changed?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: I think a lot of it has to do with stubbornness. And I don’t say “stubbornness” is like always a good quality. ‘Cause it sometimes leads you to do terrible things.
But, I was stubborn enough to know that maybe I wasn’t the – like I wasn’t the best in having variety. I wasn’t the strongest. I wasn’t the fastest. But I found a way to, like, come through.
And then I watched a lot of commentating on TV, particularly when I was younger, like a young teenager. Where after each French Open champion won, Justine Henin or Svetlana Kuznetsova, and a commentator would say, this is how it’s done. You know, you got to get the loopy ball then you gotta slice back and then you gotta play defense.
And I was like, well, I don’t have that. Then I’m going to do everything I can and find my own weapons and make them better and accommodate them for this surface.
And I think that I did. I got better in every little aspect on the court. And maybe was physically challenging for me. I was tall, I was lanky, I wasn’t coordinated. I think all those three things apply to this day. But, you know, I just know how to handle it better.