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October 22, 2009

Maria Sharapova

GINA CLEMENT: Good morning or afternoon for those on the East Coast. I'd like to welcome and thank all of the media who are joining this Cellular South Cup conference call with three-time Grand Slam champion and former No. 1 player Maria Sharapova. Thank you, Maria, for your time.
GINA CLEMENT: I'm Gina Clement with the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour. Before we begin, I would like to introduce Jim Richmond, director of corporate communications for Cellular South, the title sponsor of the tournament. Thank you, Jim, for joining us today.
JIM RICHMOND: Thank you, Gina.
GINA CLEMENT: Jim would like to say just a few words.
JIM RICHMOND: First of all, Cellular South is certainly proud to be the title sponsor for the 2010 Cellular South Cup. Obviously, we've been around this tournament for a number of years. The excitement surrounding the tournament really has grown not just in Memphis or the Mid South market, but really throughout the region. We're really excited we've been able to bring big-name players in, like Venus Williams and Lindsay Davenport in the past, and of course this year with Maria joining us for 2010, it's going to be absolutely terrific. We're really looking forward to getting the tennis fans engaged with this year's tournament. Obviously, it's going to be fairly easy to do that with Maria onboard.
Maria, we're looking forward to having you back in Memphis and looking forward to a terrific 2010 Cellular South Cup.
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Thank you. I'm looking forward to it, as well.
GINA CLEMENT: Thank you, Jim.
Next, I would like to introduce Bill Rapp, who is representing the Cellular South Cup.
BILL RAPP: Maria, I just wanted to start off with the first couple questions. Really appreciate you taking the time to be with us today.
BILL RAPP: I know you returned to the tour just before the '09 French Open after a 10-month layoff with the shoulder injury. At the time your ranking was around 160. You finished strong, 31-9, winning Tokyo. Talk to us about how you're feeling right now and what your plans are for the 2010 season.
MARIA SHARAPOVA: I'm really excited and so blessed finishing off the season I have a couple of months going into next year. Sitting down and looking back into what kind of happened this year, what I achieved personally to get back on the court, play tennis and do what I love, win my title in Tokyo, it was great. It makes you realize that all the hard work you put in for so many months is really worth it at the end of the day.
I'm looking forward to the off-season. I have a couple of months to train and get ready and build a good base for 2010.
BILL RAPP: From a more local angle, tell us your thoughts about the excitement to return to Memphis and play the Cellular South Cup.
MARIA SHARAPOVA: It's been so long since I've been back. I think I was 17. It was a few months before I won my first Grand Slam. That seems like a very long time ago. So I felt like I needed to renew that and come back again. I heard so many great things about the renovations of the courts and the stadium as well. I'm really looking forward to going back and playing.
It actually fit into my schedule really well, considering I'll be traveling pretty far away from basically January on for the Australian and a few XO's before that. To be able to come home and probably train a week and then have almost like a local tournament to me is really great. It fit perfectly into my schedule. So I'm really fortunate that I'm playing there.
GINA CLEMENT: Now we'll take questions from the media.

Q. Your comeback was very visible. You were on TV an awful lot and went through some things that were pretty impressive in terms of missing so much time. Talk about how important it was to get the win in Tokyo for your confidence.
MARIA SHARAPOVA: It was. You know, after losing at the US Open, it was interesting because I was really excited to go back on the court and work hard because I felt like I knew what I needed to work on. I just had a fresh perspective. I didn't get angry. I was a little bit disappointed. But in a day I found myself back on the court again and training and working.
I think because of that attitude and the positive thoughts, the determination that you put into the work every day, I think it ultimately brings good things to the table. It was certainly a really great test for me to play six matches in six days against really tough opponents. In Toronto only a few weeks before that I kind of ran out of steam. In Tokyo, I felt really good and fresh.
So I felt like I learned something. I feel like I've learned so many things this year, as well.

Q. When you miss time on the tour, even a couple months, how difficult is it coming back? When you're gone, things don't slow down.
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Oh, absolutely.

Q. How hard is it to return from a psychological standpoint?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Yeah, I mean, the tennis world still goes around. There are many younger players coming up, everyone is still playing. But you got to get back on the train fast. There's no real choice. But you can't expect to do something more than you're able to do. You got to realize that we're all human, we're all going to learn from our mistakes. At the end of the day, it's how you come from the tough, not just when you're up, up, up.
It's definitely a process. It still is. Like I said, it's a blessing to be able to do what I do and still be able to do it.

Q. Obviously you put Memphis on the calendar for next year. You didn't play a full season this year.

Q. What is your take on the Roadmap so far? This has been the first year.
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Right. I mean, I only got to experience it from the second part of the year. But I think there are many great things to it. I definitely think the back-to-back big events are probably one of the most challenging of the year, where you probably have Rome and Madrid together, then Tokyo and Beijing together, so close together, big draws, all the top players. That's probably maybe something that we'll try to look into and see how we can make it into a little bit more efficient than it is, 'cause it's some of the things that many of the players have been talking about.
But overall I think it's great to be able to have bigger tournaments than we did before with, you know, more players playing, bigger prize money as well. To be able to have that in tough times like this, you know, it's pretty darn good.

Q. What about the situation where some top players haven't been able to play events they wanted to play because of the new commitments?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: The top 10 list, you mean?

Q. Yes. Haven't been able to play some of the smaller tournaments they wanted to play.
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Right. Well, I think the reason behind that is because we want to encourage all the players to be playing the big events. That's where the points are. That's where the money is. That's why they're there. That's why the tournaments are so big. I don't know how they do it, but if girls are playing 30 tournaments a year, obviously you're only counted for 16. At the end of the day, it's not only tough, it's tough for your body, for your mind, and it's a long season. I think we're trying to protect injuries and we're trying to encourage players - not me - to play the bigger events, a smaller number of them, so they can compete at a higher level at the right time.

Q. We talked about the schedule and the Roadmap, supposed to make it easier to stay injury-free. What do you think about the players who play a long season and then play exhibitions? Isn't that sort of talking out both sides of your mouth?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: It's actually a good point. I think the most important thing about that is when do you do it? If you have an off-season for, I don't know, two months, two and a half months, obviously the men it's very different, their off-season is only about one month, but we're fortunate to have a little bit of a longer off-season. If you're doing XO's maybe close to the first Grand Slam of the year, towards the end of the year as preparation, as part of your training, then that's a great thing.

Q. How is this off-season going to be different after coming back from the injury compared to some of the past off-seasons?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: I think it will be refreshing after this year because, one, in a way I felt like I've kind of been playing catch-up this whole year. I was trying for the first part of the year just to get myself back on the court. Then when I finally got myself back on the court and was feeling better than I was before, I was trying to get into match shape. But then, you know, you don't get into match shape just by practicing for three weeks. So I felt like it was kind of catch-up.
Now in the next few months, next couple of months, before the big one, I have time to really create a base and to actually, you know, go on the court and work on things without having to think about the consequences of what it can do to this or my shoulder or other things. That's why I'm excited about it.

Q. You mentioned thinking about the consequences. Do you think sometimes the reason that kind of looms is because the media can use an injury or a comeback as a story line?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: It's tough for me to think that way. I'm way too experienced. Even though I'm 22, I've been on the tour for long enough to know that everyone's going to have an opinion and everyone wants a story line. That's what makes the world go round. If we didn't have opinions, if everyone liked the way you were, the world would be really boring. You have to appreciate everyone's opinions and respect them.
At the end of the day, you have to do what's right for you, not what's right for, say, who's writing a story.

Q. Going through what you went through as far as surgery, how difficult was the actual process of recovering and rehabilitating? Was it harder than you thought physically and mentally?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: It was a lot longer than I thought, yeah. But I learned that's the doctor's way. They keep you optimistic. Then after a few months, you find out that the reality pretty much is in your own hands and in time's hands. If the shoulder is going to heal in six months, I mean, it will be pretty tough to get back on the court in three months.
In the beginning, I found myself figuring out when I was going to play or looking at the schedule and saying, I'm going to be ready by this tournament. So many of those goals were shredded to pieces. I came to a point where I was like, I don't really care when I come back, I just want to come back, whenever that is.
The fact that I realized that actually helped me. That was kind of a tough time 'cause I wanted to know when I was going to be back. But, I mean, mentally and physically it was work. I mean, I wasn't on vacation. I wish I could say that I was traveling around the world and on vacation. But I worked probably harder than I have in my career just to get back to playing, and that wasn't even on the court.
It was a process. But it's all worth it. It will be worth it, so...

Q. When you go into your off-season training, how will that process change? Will you do anything differently?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: I'll definitely be able to spend more time on the court, you know, 'cause I'm feeling a lot better. My arm is definitely feeling a lot better than it did just, say, maybe two or three months ago. I feel like I can do a lot more on the court, more repetition, more time, and also not worry as much as I did. So I think in that perspective, I'll be different. I hope it will be different (laughter).

Q. You mentioned more time on the court. Now that you're 22, do you tweak your off-season program, mixing in weight training, adding some things now since you are healthy, trying to build your base again?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: I mean, unfortunately, I'll still be doing shoulder rehab exercises for rest of my career. That's just the way it goes. That's part of an athlete's life after you've had a pretty serious injury. So that will still be part of the regime. I'll definitely be working on my fitness going into Australia.
Most importantly, I want to spend time on the court 'cause ultimately you can do all the weight training, this and that, at the end of the day, the only thing that's going to make you better is by playing tennis.

Q. You had some very memorable battles against Justine Henin. Thinking about the match you played a couple years ago at the year-end championship.
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Yeah, that was fun.

Q. Just a few comments on her comeback. Were you surprised? Are you looking forward to having her in the mix again?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: I mean, to be honest, I think I was more surprised she retired than she's coming back. The competitor that she is, when you do something for such a long time, when you stop, it must be nice for a little bit. But because of what we do, because of our competitive spirit, I'm sure she watched some of the tennis on TV, as well, and she got that back.
If you really think about it, I mean, we have a pretty darn good life. We travel around the world. We play some of the most amazing tournaments in the world. We stay at great places. We make good money. I mean, why not? I'm definitely not surprised.

Q. Her comeback spurred a lot of discussion about whether there should be a provision for a mental health break or a sabbatical. What do you think about that idea? I know you had forced time off.
MARIA SHARAPOVA: I just about spit my oatmeal out of my mouth. That was really funny (laughter).
With so many things on our plates right now, the Roadmap, everything else, I don't see that being something that we're going to be talking about too much in the near future. I mean, I think it's a personal choice. It's about how you feel, and every individual is different. Every individual is in a different part of their career. One can be coming up, is 17, is hungry, has all the energy in the world. Somebody might be playing for years and years and is tired. Everyone is different.
I think it's about listening to yourself and realizing what you need and what you feel. I mean, if you need a break, you need a break, and you take a break. I mean, it's your choice.

Q. Sorry about the oatmeal.
MARIA SHARAPOVA: That's okay. That just came out of left field (laughter).

Q. What do you feel over the past six months on court worked for you well and what has to work better for you next year?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: I mean, I can take a few good things away from this year. I think the fact that I wasn't able to serve for so long, you know, I worked on my return quite a bit. I felt like towards the end of the year that really improved and that was really strong and it pulled me out of many matches without serving great.
You know, there are other little things that I had worked on, minor details, but I feel like in the time that I had, they were pretty specific and I had time to work on them.
As far as what I can improve, I mean, I can definitely get stronger, I can get quicker. That's something that I'd like to work on. Overall, God, I don't know. I mean, I feel like you can add a little percentage here, a little percentage there. In today's game that's pretty huge. That's what you strive for. That's what we go out on the court for.

Q. The young players like Azarenka, Wozniacki, Radwanska, who has impressed you the most?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Did you say besides them?

Q. No, including them.
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Well, how much younger are they?

Q. Three or four years younger than you.
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Why do you have to make me feel so old on a Thursday morning (laughter)?
You know, goodness, what can I say? I mean, I thought Azarenka is probably one of the best out of the pack. I think she has a really great fighting spirit. You know, she has a great all-around game. I felt like from the time I played her in L.A., to the time I played her in Beijing, you could see she lost the match against me, and there's that game plan going into the next match. She definitely improved how she played. I thought as a player, that's always pretty impressive because you always try to learn from your losses.
But, yeah, I think she's probably up there.

Q. On the whereabouts issue with drug testing, do you find it overly burdensome and do you feel it should be modified to accommodate the peripatetic lifestyle of tennis players, especially at tournaments?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Personally, I don't mind. I don't have a problem listing where I'm going to be every single day of my life. That's not a big issue. I think if it's going to make our sport clean, then that's the most important thing. I mean, I had someone come last year on the 23rd of December, two days before Christmas, and they were sitting upstairs with me because I couldn't pee. They were like doing a puzzle with me for an hour. You know, you laugh at the situation.

Q. That must explain why I didn't get a present last year.
MARIA SHARAPOVA: I didn't have time, you see (laughter).
You know, it obviously sounds ridiculous, but in a way it's smart.

Q. But at tournaments when we know where you are, does it seem overly burdensome to put down where you're going to be every day when you know you're at an event?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: I mean, why? Everyone knows you're at the event, right? I mean, one of the toughest things is when we play, say, a quarterfinal, a night match, and we get randomly tested after the quarterfinal match, then we win the match and we have to play the next day. That's probably the toughest thing because we can be sitting in there for an hour, you know, at 1:00 in the morning you find yourself going to bed with a 1 p.m. match the next day. So that's a little bit tough. Probably the smartest thing to do is when you're out of the tournament or when you lose, or if you win the tournament, like we do in the Grand Slams.
GINA CLEMENT: This concludes our call. As you know, Maria will play her first-round match at the Cellular South Cup on Monday, February 15th, at 7 p.m. Thank you, everyone, for your time.

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