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Monday, June 20, 2005

Maria Interview

THE MODERATOR: Good morning, Ladies and Gentlemen. Thank you for coming to this pre Championship's press conference on a very sunny day. We hope we're going to get another 13 of them. Keep our fingers crossed. Great pleasure in presenting the Wimbledon ladies' champion of 2004, Maria Sharapova. I would like to take the opportunity to thank Maria for coming today and also for what you've been doing for us. Thank you very much, indeed.

Who would like to ask the first question?

Q. How does it feel walking through those gates for the first time as defending champion?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Very amazing. Obviously brings back a lot of great memories. This was a very fun time last year. So coming back, a lot of memories going through my mind, yeah. Coming back to this press conference (smiling)...

Maria Sharapova

Q. Yesterday Serena said that she beat herself; you didn't do much. She threw the match away. What do you say to that?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: That match was a whole year ago, so, you know, that's past. We're in the present. I really don't want to talk about last year any more.

Q. Is it as emotional for you this time around?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Yeah, it's more ?? you know, it's exciting because I've always had great success at this tournament. You know, every time I come back, it just feels like a special place ? especially winning it. You know, getting back out on the courts and practicing, I just enjoy it whenever I come back here.

Q. Can you talk about coming back to Wimbledon as the defending champion, the No. 2 seed, versus last year when you were seeded 14th, not a lot to lose. Talk about the challenges of coming back here this year.
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Well, obviously it's going to be a lot harder to defend than winning, you know, than winning it for the first time. I've heard that many times. Last year I was 17 years old, and who expected me to win? You know, this year I'm 18, I've had so much more experience behind my back, and I love the surface. Obviously, there are going to be more expectations, and that's absolutely normal for a player that's No. 2 in the world.

But I'm just going to go out and enjoy myself, not worry about anything else that's going on, and just have fun and just take it all in.

Q. Do you feel there's also some advantage because of the fact that you've done it and you know you can do it?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Yeah. Every time I step onto grass, you know, I feel confident just because I feel like, you know, it really suits my game. You never know what can happen obviously on a certain day. But I feel like I have a bigger advantage against a lot of my opponents and I feel really good, confident.

Q. What has been the highlight of the year since you won?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Well, I won The Championships. You mean tennis?wise, everything?

Q. Yes.
MARIA SHARAPOVA: I think winning The Championships also meant a lot, just because, you know, the top players in the world are playing. They've had the best results in the year. And being able to do that, you know, I was so tired at the end of the year. I really thought I couldn't play another match, but I kept giving it all I had. You know, that was also a great moment.

Q. What do you say to those people who say that you make too much noise when you play?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: You know, I can't really control people's judgments. It's really none of my business to control what people think.

You know, I just ?? I don't really think about it. I've said this before. It's sort of an old story, so there's no big point talking about it.

Q. How do you feel about the news that there's a British stalker who has been banned from The Championships? Does that scare you?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: I haven't heard about that. I don't read the papers or anything.

Q. There's a report that there's somebody who tried to lunge at you before. Won't be here this year. Are you scared of stalkers in general?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: No, I have five bodyguards walking around with me all the time. I feel secure. I'm always surrounded by people. You know, I feel safe, so...

Q. Any player who is your biggest threat this year?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: There's not one in particular. I think the level of women's tennis is quite high right now. I think a player from the Top 10, a player from the Top 20 can be dangerous. You don't see in the first week of a Grand Slam players having 1 and 2 matches all the time. You know, a lot of the matches are tough, you can face a tough opponent. You might have to play three sets.

But anyone can be dangerous. You know, it's really hard to say.

Q. Do you feel you're a better grass court player now than a year ago?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: I think just because you don't play on grass so much, you don't really have so much time to practice on it. I mean, after the French, I only practiced three days until I started playing first round at Birmingham. You know, it's hard to say if ??

I'm a better player by itself, but on grass, you know, it's really hard to say without having so much time to practice on it.

Q. When you've had such great results somewhere and you come back, do you like to keep the same routine, do the same thing, stay in the same place, go to the same restaurants?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: No, I'm not staying in the same place. I'm not really superstitious about it. But with restaurant?wise, I mean, if the food's good and the quality is good, you know, I don't like to change. Last year I was eating at a Thai restaurant for 14 days. By the end of those two weeks, my whole team was like... "I want this, I want 57, I want No. 87." It was the same routine.

The reason I usually go to the same restaurants is because you know the quality of the food is good. You don't want to go to a different restaurant because you might be sick the next day. It's not really because I'm superstitious.

Q. Have there been any times this year in particular where you felt everything that comes with what you've achieved on the court has threatened to get in the way of what you want to do next, felt like things are overwhelming in any way?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: No. I've been enjoying everything that I've been doing. I've kept a really good balance between my tennis and other things that I do. Everything that I do off the court, I enjoy it, because if I wouldn't be enjoying it, I wouldn't be doing it.

I've always felt like, you know, whenever I do something else or I rest for, you know, seven days, even if I need to rest, I always miss going back on the court and I always miss, you know, the competitiveness out there.

So while I still feel it and while I still have that feeling inside of me, then I know I'm still on the right track.

Q. When you say "keeping a balance," there's no rules for any of this stuff. How do you decide whether you are keeping the right balance? Who do you discuss that with or is it just an instinctive thing?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Well, you must have that feeling inside. You must realize, you know, what your priority is, you know, how much time you can spend on one certain thing.

Obviously, I have an amazing team around me like, you know, that can help me with those things. I have my parents, I have my managers and everyone else. You know, I just do what I have to do. And if I enjoy, you know, that's why I do it. And if I don't, I say, "I don't want to do it."

Q. Could you talk about the role Robert Lansdorp has played in your development as a player and the role he plays now?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: You know, Robert has never really traveled with me. But I've always considered him as one of my coaches just because, you know, when I was young we came to him and, you know, we always come back. He's a character, but he's taught me a lot about the game. He's had so much experience with past players. When I came to him, I was about 11. You know, I would get bored after hitting four balls in a row in one corner, and he made me hit 100. So he taught me that patience and the consistency and the drive, and I guess that determination in your mind that you have to be able to hit 100 balls in order to win one point.

Q. He says you're one of the first people that ever gave him credit. Can you talk about that?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Well, I mean, if I feel like someone has played a part in my career, then why not give them credit? I mean, you know, there's obviously ?? if I don't feel like someone wants to get credit for doing nothing then, you know, there's no point talking about the person. But Robert's played a big part in my career and I don't see why I shouldn't give him credit for that.

Q. How do you feel about seeing that huge thing at the end of Wimbledon High Street?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: It's funny (laughter).

Q. What is your reaction? Do you feel kind of strange seeing it?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Well, I didn't even know until I walked down to the village. I got halfway down the street and I was like, "Whoa." It hit me. I was like telling my dad, "Do you see that?"

He's like, "What, what, I don't see anything."

I'm like, "Hello, how can you not see anything?"

But I didn't know anything about it till I saw it. It was surprising.

Q. Going back to the stalker issue, the fact that there is this threat since you won Wimbledon last year, does that kind of bother you as you're walking around? You seem to walk around quite freely.
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Yeah, I do. Like I said, I'm always around someone. I'm always with somebody. I always feel safe. If I was worried every step I was taking, I don't think I would be walking around. I always have bodyguards around me wherever I feel I need them.

But I'm never walking around alone. I always have a group of people walking around with me.

Q. Are you still studying?

Q. What are you doing this year?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: This year I'm doing Algebra II. Definitely not very fun.

Q. Are you doing exams?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: This year I'm doing exams, too. I'm finishing my last exam of the course. Before I finish this tournament, once I get home, my mom has to see the exam finished. If she doesn't, I'm in trouble (smiling).

Q. Can you talk about the dress you will be wearing during this fortnight.
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Yeah, it's ?? how do I explain the dress? I would say it's a summer dress. It has orange details on it. It has a pleated skirt on the bottom. It's pretty covered on top. But the pleated skirt gives it a lot of wave. It's perfect for the weather ? if we keep this weather.

My shoes have 18 carat gold specs on the side of the shoes. That's something totally different. But it shines unbelievably. Hopefully can distract my opponents a little bit (smiling).

And my cover?up, it's sort of a cloak, has gold details and a gold zipper.

Q. Do you have input into that kind of thing?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Definitely not the gold shoes. I can't go to the designer and say, "I want 18?carat gold on my shoes." But I work with the designers all the time. The process is, you know, we're already working on next year's Wimbledon. So, you know, we already know a lot of things I'm going to wear for the rest of the year.

But, you know, I work with a designer. Obviously I don't design anything for her. I tell her, "I want to wear this." I incorporate my ideas and the colors and what I feel like I want to be wearing at a certain Grand Slam and the colors. Those inspirations go to her and she comes back with a design and we work with it and I see what I like about it. If I want it to be more feminine or I want some more details, we go back and forth like that.

Q. How much would a pair of 18?carat gold shoes cost if I wanted to get a pair?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: I really don't think they're for sale (laughter). I think they're about $600 or $900, something like that.

Q. How many pair of shoes do you go through in a tournament?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: On grass, probably one for every week.

Q. So how many pairs of gold shoes have you got?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: I have 10. Not that I'll be using all of them. But I think some of them will go through (indiscernible).

Q. How important is it for you to look really good on the courts?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: I think it's not as important to look good; it's important to feel good. I've always loved fashion, I've always wanted to be different. You know, obviously before I was wearing a lot of things that other people were wearing. But, you know, now I'm working with Nike to have exclusive items that you'll just see on myself.

You know, I've always loved to be different. I've always loved to be creative with the things that I wear and have always loved, you know, to feel good in what I'm wearing. And it's very important, especially when you're on the court. If you don't feel like something is wrong, or, you know, too short or too long, something is big, you know, you just don't feel right, then obviously that can affect you.

Q. Back to the tournament. What is going to be the key?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: I was liking the dress (laughter).

Q. What is going to be the key for you to repeat here, do you think?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Just go out there and fight and do the best I can. There is nothing in particular. I mean, I'm just going to go out there and enjoy it and do the best I can to win and just play my game. That's exactly the same thing I did last year.

Q. A lot has happened to you in the last year. How do you keep from growing up too quickly?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Unfortunately, I've had to grow up since I was about 15 or 16. You know, that's not a decision that you just say, "I have to grow up." It's something that comes naturally with your profession and your life and your career. It's something you naturally have to get used to. I mean, traveling around the world every single week, studying on your own, playing tennis, being away from your home, you know, you either adapt to it or you don't.

You know, if you do, you have to be considered an adult because I don't see too many, you know, a lot of teenagers traveling around the world, you know, competing, having to do schoolwork on their own. It's obviously tough, but you have to have that motivation. You have to be mature for your age.

But it's normal for a career like that.

Q. You say you're not too consistent. Do you have the same locker as last year? Will you do the same things at Wimbledon?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: No. The member's locker room doesn't really have specific lockers. I don't really ?? I don't really put my stuff in a locker. I mean, if people want to steal my stuff, you know, then that's just their problem. I mean, there's nothing too valuable that I'm going to leave out there. I don't really use a locker anyway.

Except my shoes, that I'll probably have to. I'm going to ask the locker room attendant to get me a safe for those (smiling).

Q. Justine always said it was the French Open that she wanted to win. There was a nice story about her going to the French Open when she was 12 with her mom. Would it be fair to say that Wimbledon was the tournament you talked most about in your family when you were growing up? What was the vision of Wimbledon when you were little?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Uhm, when I was younger, I didn't really have a vision until I came here as a junior about three years ago. So once I came here and once I experienced the whole atmosphere, then from then on I just said, you know, that's my favorite tournament. You know, I never ?? I mean, I saw the tournament on TV, but I never played on grass, I didn't know what it was like. So it was hard for me, you know, to say that it was my favorite until I actually got here and experienced the whole vibe of the tournament.

Q. Was it slippery the first time you stepped on grass?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: I tell you, I was sore the next day. I was a junior and I remember practicing at just like an off?court tournament. I think it was before, Roehampton, I would say. I was playing a junior tournament in Roehampton, and that was the first time.

Q. You talked about how tough it is traveling as a teenager. Is your social life totally sacrificed or do you ever get to have friends to do things?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Yeah, I have a lot of friends. I mean, I don't have a lot. I have about three good friends, and that's more than enough. You know, they live in different parts of the world. I try to visit them as much as possible.

Obviously, it's not very easy. But, of course, it's very important that when I'm back home, I still keep a close relationship with them because I've known them for so long.

Q. How have your friends reacted to what's happened over the last year? Have they stayed the same?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: I would imagine good friends would stay the same, and so far they have. Obviously, they're overwhelmed. You know, everything happened so unexpectedly, that with them we kind of laugh. You know, when we go shopping or something, before it was like, "Well, for Christmas I want that pair of shoes." Now I go shopping, "I'm going to get that pair of shoes now."

Just, you know, we always joke about it and we always laugh about it. We take it with good humor, with everything that's happened. But I still have, you know, friends that ?? I believe it's good to have friends and keep the same friends that were friends with you, you know, before you became successful.

Q. How much does that help you keep your feet on the ground with everything you've achieved so far?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: It's very important to have a good team around you. I think, you know, having both of my parents very close to me and friends, as well, but I think your parents ?? you know, my mom's my best friend. It's good to have that kind of team around you that you can look to when you're not having a good day that day.

Q. What about boyfriends? Do you have time for them?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Yeah, I have time, but I don't talk about them (smiling).

Q. Are both of your parents here with you?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: No, just my dad.

Q. Is your mom relaxed about watching you?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: No, she doesn't watch. She just says "Congratulations" if I win and "Just another match, who cares," if I lose.

Q. Will you be trying to ring her at the end of the matches again?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: I'm going to take it one match at a time.

Q. How does it work for you? Do you like a group with you from tournament to tournament or do you need your own space to prepare best?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Yeah, I'm a pretty independent person. So I usually like to ?? I enjoy having time by myself. I don't like when I have sisters or cousins or grandfathers traveling with me. I mean, I always stick to the, you know, same amount of people. I have my dad traveling with me. I have my trainer, you know, my team, my sparring partner. You know, my agent goes to the big tournaments. That's all I need.

Just, you know, when I'm on the road, I make sure I'm concentrating on my tennis. When I'm home, I can have a team of 100 around me.

Q. There are many players who are buying dogs like Arantxa. Steffi Graf was traveling with a dog. Do you think it might be a good companion?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: I've been thinking about that, and I don't know, maybe when I lose my independence here or something, I'll want a dog. But right now I can't imagine traveling with a dog. That's a no-no right now.


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