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June 23, 2007

Maria Sharapova


THE MODERATOR: Questions for Maria.

Q. You've had a week off, got some grass court matches in, probably two more than you wanted in one day. But can you tell us about the shoulder? How much better is it? Can you stand up there and hit 110 miles an hour serves right now?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: I can. Some days are better than others. It's still not exactly where I want it to be. But I've said that in the last few weeks and I've been able to play good and steady.
I'm happy that I got to play. My goal in Birmingham was to play as many matches as I can, and I did that. After playing that many matches in a couple days my shoulder held up well. That was a really good sign.
It's always good to get a few days off, just practice on the courts here before we start.

Q. Will you compensate for that by maybe taking a little pace off the serve, try to be more careful with the location of the first serve?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Well, I wouldn't say -- I don't have the strongest or the biggest serve on tour. I do rely a lot on placement most times. It depends who I play, what I feel will be necessary.
But I've always thought that placement is more important than speed, especially in my case.

Q. What does the institution of equal pay here mean to you?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: It's incredible. I think all the girls have stood up as a team and have been fighting for such a long period of time. I remember last year it was one of the questions that was greatly asked in all the press conferences that most of us got.
We just kept fighting. We believed we were going to get what we asked for, and we did. At the end of the day I don't think anyone really thought that it was about dollars, a few pounds here and there. I think it was just about, you know, the fact that we were equal to men, which is incredible.

Q. This time last year you came to Wimbledon, you had your one Grand Slam title. People were saying, Is that it?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: I remember that (laughter).

Q. I'm sure that was beginning to annoy you. Here we are now. You have a second Grand Slam title. What does that US Open win mean in terms of a statement? What does it mean in terms of your mood, your view coming to Wimbledon now?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: I just think there's more of a rush outside me. I didn't have any rush feeling within myself because I knew what I was capable of. I always told people, Look, I have won a Grand Slam, but I won it when I was 17. I never really thought that I was ready to do that.
Last year's US Open, I really thought that I was physically and mentally ready to do it. It showed, especially beating Amélie in three sets and going the next day and beating Justine in two.
Of course, you never know what can happen on a particular day. You might get an injury, might not feel as great. But with a little bit of luck, with confidence, I had a good few weeks coming up to the Open where I got a lot of good matches. I beat Kim for the first time in my career with a really solid win.
I was just playing really good tennis. I was comfortable out there. It all came together. It was one of those moments where that's what you hope for. That's just what happened. That definitely gives me confidence looking on. If I could do it on hard court, I can definitely do it on grass again.

Q. Is it necessarily important that you haven't won a tournament this year going into Wimbledon, although you've come close?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Yeah, I have. It's been a little bit of an up-and-down year, considering that I did get to the final of the first major, then had a little bit of a slump, had the shoulder injury, which was quite a long time being out of the game. I'm doing better than I thought I could have done, considering I didn't even know if I was going to play the French.
Yeah, I mean, it's been a little bit up and down, but I'm still grateful for doing whatever I was capable of doing.

Q. Can you compare the Maria Sharapova who came here at 17 and won the Wimbledon title with the Maria Sharapova sitting here today?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Uhm, I don't know. I was asked that in Birmingham actually. I said, I don't know. I said maybe my hair is a little shorter, a little darker. I don't know.
I took every match. With every match I played at 17, I mean, probably from the fourth round on, I was really thinking that I'm going to be gone soon. I was like, Oh, yes, I'm so excited. When I was playing against Lindsay and we had that rain delay, when I was down a set and a break, I was really telling everyone, We're flying out tomorrow. I'm really tired. Let's go.
I remember my dad telling me, You can do it. I'm like, Listen, you need a reality check here. I'm down a set and a break. Somehow I was able to do it. It wasn't like I could or I couldn't, I just didn't expect much. I don't think anyone else did. It took a long time to register. Physically I never thought I would be able to do it.
That was probably the most extraordinary thing. It wasn't really about the tennis or the pressure. I just never thought that I was physically strong to go in day in, day out and compete against top players for two weeks in a row.

Q. If it comes against you and Serena again, do you think it will be the same result?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: The last couple times I played her, it was a completely different result. I'm definitely looking forward to the challenge of changing that, yeah.

Q. She was saying earlier she feels when she's playing well, on top of her game, there's no one to beat her. Do you agree with that assessment? Who are your main rivals for the title?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: I mean, look, when she's playing well and she's serving the way she can really serve, what you're hoping to do is probably hold your serve, which does put a lot of pressure on her. She has one of the biggest serves on tour. She's physically one of the strongest.
Look, you never know what can happen. I mean, tennis, there's a very thin line in tennis. A lot of it is mental. A point here, a point there can change many things. On any given day things can be different.
As for the main rivals here, I mean, Justine has been probably the most consistent and top player this year, as well as last. You can never really underestimate your opponents that are not even in the top 20 because when they go out against you, they really have nothing to lose. Sometimes that's when they play their best tennis.
Any opponent is going to be a great challenge. It's just a matter of how you deal with it.

Q. Do you think Serena is really is sort of mentally a tougher player, or is she better at talking up that part of her game?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Well, she is definitely mentally tough. You can see that on the court. She's a fighter. She goes for her shots. If she's going to lose the match, she wants to lose it on her terms.

Q. More so than any other player? I mean, obviously all you guys have that to some level. Is she tougher than anyone else out there, or is it more she kind of speaks about it in more of a frank way?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: I mean, she's won -- she must be tougher than many players because she's won a lot more Grand Slams than most of them, yeah.

Q. At the French Open, although you didn't foreclose the possibility entirely, you didn't seem terribly positive playing in the next Fed Cup round. Anything changed in that respect in your mind?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: No, it's still the same. I think I really have to see how it goes here. This has been, I don't know what, my seventh week on the road. After this I definitely feel like my shoulder will probably need some rest, at least a couple of weeks.
I don't know. It's tough to say right now.

Q. Would it be fair to say it's unlikely or less than 50/50?

Q. Do you ever miss those innocent days when you turned up here, nobody knew who you were? Now you're one of the contenders.
MARIA SHARAPOVA: There's a different feeling, yeah, definitely. Even when I was 16 I got to the fourth round here. I definitely felt like that's the first time on an international level I was starting to get some recognition, when I actually realized that people are starting to look at me and to watch my tennis and all that, pay attention more closely than they did before.
But now it's just I go with the flow of things. When I walk around the streets, I don't really feel aware of people looking at me, asking me for my autograph. I just go on with my life. I'm still very surprised when I see myself in publications, when people recognize me. It's still an amazing feeling. I think I'm more freer now. I don't know. It's a different feeling. It is.

Q. How much more do you want to achieve in your career? Do you want to try to complete the set of all the four slams?

Q. How many more Wimbledons do you think you can win, or want to win?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: I'd love to win the other two. I came pretty close. Like I said, the French Open's probably going to be one of the toughest challenges in my career, but one I think I'm very capable of, especially in a few years to come. Becoming No. 1 again, maintaining it. It's a lot harder to maintain it than it is just to get there and keep it for a couple of weeks.
I'd love to win this title as many more times as I can probably more than any other tournament.

Q. It's special to you, this tournament?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Oh, yeah. It's amazing. I mean, I get goosebumps every time I drive through the village, I see my name on the board, by the trophies. It's an incredible feeling. I don't know, it's a bit surreal because I feel like it happened so long ago.
When I do see my name, it's a bit of a reality check because I'm like, Yes, that did really happen. Every year I get my member's badge. I'm like, ha-ha. It's really special because you don't think about it on a daily basis, Wow, I'm a Wimbledon champion.
You're a tennis player. You know you've achieved things. When those little things come up, you see your name as a past champion, you get your little badge, then you're like, Wow.

Q. It's history, in black and white there.
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Yeah. I think that's what's really incredible, is that no one can take that away from me. 20 years from now I can just walk around the members' area and still see my name there. It will still be on that trophy.
I was looking through a pamphlet that they gave us, to all the players, with all the information. There's this one picture of the trophy. There was my name with all the others around it. I was just staring. I'm going to tear it, frame it, put it on my black-and-white wall in my house.

Q. Did you look for your name, or did it jump out at you?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: No, it was -- it just hit me. I don't know. I just saw the trophy. I was like, Whoa. I kind of leaned in, That's my name.

Q. This afternoon Justine and Amélie have been battling it out in Eastbourne. Serena said she was happier to be here. What is your feeling about that? Happier to be practicing instead of playing in a tournament two days before?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: I definitely prefer having a week break before a Grand Slam. That's what I've done for as much as I can remember until the French Open this year - injury provided (sic).
I do like to have that break. I was fortunate to get a Wednesday start at the French. I couldn't play tennis for two days, which helped me a lot because it was raining there.

Q. Jankovic, when she was there at Nick's, she was a little older, taken her more time to develop as an elite player. When you were there in your earlier teenage years, was there a sense that she was going to be a great champion?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Definitely. Oh, yeah. We were in a group with Tatiana, Jamea, Jelena. We didn't really practice together on a daily basis. We were really the four girls that were always trying to be surrounded by the best coaches, the best trainers.
Nick would take us, pull us aside. There would be Florida tournaments that we'd always play in. We'd play against each other all the time. I remember after the matches, we'd be going on computers, because that's when computers were first invented. It was a completely different world.
But everyone expected great things from her. She was always a very good and solid player. It's tough to say because everyone becomes themselves at a different time. Everyone matures in different ways. It takes some people longer than others. Everyone is going to have their ups and downs, everyone is going to have their peak moments at different points. It definitely took her longer. I think she's 21, something like that.

Q. Do you think she's emotionally ready to win a Grand Slam?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: I mean, why not? She's playing the best tennis of her career right now. She's No. 3 in the world. She clearly doesn't have a deficit in matches. She's been playing a lot of tennis this year. I played her last week.
You can definitely sense that because coming from my experience, when I play a lot of matches, when I'm in difficult situations, I kind of had the confidence of going up to the line, not really caring, coming up with a big serve. She definitely has that right now. There's no reason why she's not ready.

Q. They always say when sports people win something at a very young age, that it kind of goes over their heads. When they get a second chance when they're older, they take it in more. At 17, did it all kind of happen too easily? Now that you're really old at 20, if you were to win again, you might take it in a bit more?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: There was the little difference with winning the US Open. When I won Wimbledon, I flew to New York, I was on talk shows, doing this and that.
After the US Open, I was just surrounded by my friends and my family. I got to appreciate it a little bit more. I kind of settled in. And I learned. After Wimbledon even the next few tournaments I played, I thought I had to win every single little thing, not realizing that was simply impossible.
After the Open, the only big thing that I did was just go on Letterman. But it was mostly just celebrated within my little group. It was really incredible.

Q. Since 17, stronger, more experience, improving your game, do you feel this Wimbledon more than ever you're ready to take the crown, provided the shoulder is okay?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Definitely. I mean, I don't see why not. I mean, I'm clearly physically fitter than I was. Each year, that's sort of a goal. When I lost against Venus in '05 my level completely dropped from the first set to the second. It was only because I couldn't really maintain that level for more than an hour.
Against top players, that is what I've improved on so much. You're always going to have your little concentration lapses throughout the match, but that's something I've definitely improved. I'm much more experienced than I was even, say, a year ago. I feel it. It's hard to explain sitting in a room. But when you're actually in the situation, you know what you're capable of. You know that you've been in those situations before. You know you can do it. That gives you a tremendous amount of confidence.
With that, all I really have to do is just step out on Centre Court. The feeling of being so grateful, that's what's most important to me, just going out on court and enjoying the atmosphere.
Winning is a lot better than losing, but that's not always the reality. I still appreciate every moment I can go out there and be healthy.

Q. We heard how special it is for you to have won Wimbledon. What about the prospect of competing for an Olympic gold medal when the games come here in 2012?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: That's pretty exciting. I always joke with my team that maybe that will be my last event that I play because it's in five years. I'm like, I'll be 25.
To be playing on Centre Court, but you know it's not for a Wimbledon title, that's something that's pretty surreal and unbelievable, considering it's a gold medal and it's something that you're doing more for your country more than ever. Tennis is an individual sport. You play for your country on a daily basis. But in the Olympics, it's more so. It's more for the pride. It's going to be a completely different experience. Fingers crossed, I'll be able to be part of it.

Q. What about your outfit here at Wimbledon this year? Anything special about it?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Yeah, it's Swan Lake inspired.

Q. I have no clue what that means.
MARIA SHARAPOVA: When you see it, you'll see a swan. You'll be inspired. My coach saw it the other day and he said he started feeding bread to it, so he got it (smiling).

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