(January 12, 2013) A look at some of the questions and answers from the Saturday news conferences before the Australian Open begins. They include Novak Djokovic, Serena Williams, Victoria Azarenka, Roger Federer, Sam Stosur, Maria Sharapova and Andy Murray.
Q. What are your thoughts on the Australians, like Bernard Tomic?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: I believe their chances are always good. Lleyton, especially, who has so much experience playing in Grand Slams, he was the former No. 1 in the world, Grand Slam winner, played finals in Australia.
Last year before the Australian Open, everybody thought that he won’t be able to hold on physically best‑of‑five, but he managed to come to the fourth round where I played a tough four‑setter against him.
He’s proving everybody wrong. He’s a great competitor and somebody that a lot of players have a lot of respect for. I’m sure in front of his crowd he’s going to be extra motivated to do well.
On the other hand, Bernard, playing against him in Perth, watching him play the last few weeks, he improved a lot. Also he likes playing in front of his home crowd.
So their chances are always good. Just a matter of the day and how well the opponent plays also. Of course, the crowd support is always welcomed.
Q. You had almost a perfect year in 2011. One of the things you did a lot is win the first set. Last year it seems in important matches you might have lost the first set. Is that something you’re aware of?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Thanks for the information. I haven’t paid too much attention on that (laughter).
But, yeah, I maybe noticed in the last season I was coming back from being down more often than I did in 2011. Maybe that’s something that I was aware of.
But there’s nothing in particular that I have changed, except maybe just a little bit slower start. But I’m always obviously trying to start strong from the first point. So if it doesn’t happen sometimes, it’s by accident.
Q. After you won here in 2008, you played three years very consistently, No. 3 in the world. Was there anything that changed during those three years that allowed you to win the Davis Cup, have the great 2011, settle into the role as the world’s best player?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Well, there were a few particular moments that I would say were turning points. Probably Wimbledon 2010, since that tournament I started playing much better, more confident. The first six months of 2010, was going through a lot of health issues. Wasn’t able to do so many great results. I lost a lot of confidence, but managed to come back.
Davis Cup title came in the right moment. I believe that title, that feeling of sharing one of the biggest titles in our sport with my team for our country, in our country, was one of the best feelings I experienced as a tennis player on the court.
That was a great confidence boost and helped me to, afterwards, believe in myself, in my abilities on the court more. When I started that winning streaks in Australia, winning the second Grand Slam trophy in 2011, when you get such a great start of the year, then things are a bit easier, you know, mentally for continuation of the season.
Q. What do you know about Belgium?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: It’s a beautiful country (laughter).
Q. Are you a beer drinker?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: I am not a beer drinker. But I’ve heard you have the best beer. I would lie if I didn’t try, so I tried your beer. It’s very good. And you have great tennis players, obviously. Especially women’s, Justine Henin and Clijsters, the champions. Best in the world.
I think you have four or five guys that are around 30 to 50 in the world at this moment. It’s going to be tricky. Davis Cup is a very unique competition. You play for your country. There is a different feeling to it. Also you are in a team competition, so it doesn’t depend only from you, your result, what you do on the court. You also have to play well in order to get selected to play the matches, singles, doubles. It’s going to be interesting.
Q. You’re going for three in a row here in Melbourne, which hasn’t been done in the Open era. Why do you think that is difficult to do that here?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: That’s a good question. From my personal experience, I like playing here because it’s after probably five, six, seven weeks of break with no official tournament. So you get time to recover, regroup, recharge your batteries mentally, physically, try to get ready for the new season with four, five weeks of good practice. You come here fresh. You’re motivated and inspired to play some good tennis.
In my case, has been working well. This is my most successful Grand Slam. But this Grand Slam is also known for a lot of surprises, players who have been reaching the final stages who are not expected to, especially in the last six, seven years.
We’ll see. We’ll see. The Australian Open always brings something interesting.
Q. How do you feel about Rafa not being here this year? Is it disappointing for the tournament? Given that marathon you played last year, is it a bit of a relief for you?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Yeah, it is definitely a loss for the tournament, for tennis, for sport in general not to have Rafa playing still on the court. It’s been, what, seven months since he’s played his last official match.
I mean, I know him really well. We grew up together in a way. He’s a year older than me. So I know that he’s a great competitor, somebody that never gives up, fights till the last moment. And he loves this sport. I’m sure if he felt he was ready enough to play this tournament, best‑of‑five in the Australian summer that can be brutal and difficult to play, then he would come. He probably felt he needs more time to recover. I wish him a speedy recovery.
Q. You say there’s been surprises here. In the majors for the last three or four years there’s been four guys, now three guys. Do you see that continuing this year or can you see that monopoly being broken a little bit?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Well, I think we cannot predict anything. It’s individual sport, so it only depends from you. Anybody can have what Nadal has at this moment. That’s why you have to be so committed and professional for daily routines. Small details matter for long‑term, the preparations you do, the practice, the recovery. If you are injured, you’re off the tour. Your ranking is going down.
It’s probably expected that the three of us, and Nadal of course, would still be main candidates to win all the major titles. But, you know, I wouldn’t underestimate Del Potro, Tsonga, Ferrer, Berdych, anybody who is in top 10. I’m sure there’s new young players coming up like Tomic, Dimitrov, Raonic.
I don’t think it’s nice for me to predict that us three will be champions of all Grand Slams this year.
Q. Have you noticed a change in Andy Murray’s demeanor since the Olympics and New York?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: He has a shorter haircut (smiling).
Q. You’re one of the players known for taking a longer time between points than average. What are your thoughts on how the time is going to be enforced by the ATP and how it’s going to affect your playing style?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Well, I guess Nadal and myself, we’re right up there mentioned in that topic as the players who would be always in danger of the time violation because of the time we are taking between the points.
It is the way it is. I don’t complain. I cannot have any complaints when I take more than 20 seconds between the points. If the chair umpire comes to me and said, Listen, you should be a little bit more careful about it. If I do it again, he gives me warning, I can’t complain about it.
It’s within the rules and I will respect it.
Q. Are you in the best condition of your life and playing the best tennis of your life or do you think you’ve played better elsewhere?
SERENA WILLIAMS: I can’t answer that. I get asked that all the time. But I feel like I’m just in the moment right now. For this moment, I’m playing well. I really hope I can keep it up and continue to play well.
Q. Would that be winning every slam this year?
SERENA WILLIAMS: That’s an incredible goal. It hasn’t been done since the ’80s. I don’t know if I can do it. Maybe someone else can. We’ll see.
But it’s tough to say.
Q. What do you feel like inside when you’re playing out of your mind like you have been in the last little while?
SERENA WILLIAMS: I feel really calm actually. I feel really calm and really relaxed. I feel really good. I don’t feel like I’m panicking. I don’t feel like I’m doing anything over the top. I think for me that’s a key.
Q. You entered the mixed doubles here last year with Andy Roddick and didn’t get to play. One of the few Grand Slam titles you are missing. Are you planning on doing that again this year?
SERENA WILLIAMS: Yeah, we’ll see. I’m playing doubles this year. I don’t think I’m up to playing three events. I love hanging out at the tennis, but probably not that much. So I’m just going to stick to the singles and doubles this year.
I did have a partner, but my doubles partner wanted to play with me. Can’t say no to my doubles partner.
Q. How do you see that with you and Venus this year?
SERENA WILLIAMS: We love playing doubles. We’ll definitely probably play most of the slams. I don’t know. We play it by ear. We just like to go out there and have fun and play.
We don’t have really big goals, now that I think about it. We just have fun.
Q. How confident are you in Venus’s form?
SERENA WILLIAMS: I feel like she’s playing great. For me she’s my least favorite opponent on the tour. That’s not because she’s my sister, but because she’s playing a lot like me. It’s not so fun to play that.
Q. Do you like being such a favorite for tournaments?
SERENA WILLIAMS: You know, I’ve been a favorite so many times and I’ve been the ultimate underdog several times. I like being the underdog a little bit. You don’t have any pressure. Being the favorite is fun, too, because then you feel like you’re the one to beat.
If it came down to it, I would prefer to be the underdog.
Q. People have been comparing you lately to Andre (Agassi) in terms of coming into your best tennis a little later on in life, feeling an appreciation for it because of things you’ve been through. Is that fair? Do you agree with that?
SERENA WILLIAMS: Yeah, you know, I love Andre. He’s a great guy. I think our careers have some similarities, maybe just a little bit. I was playing fabulous a decade ago, as well, as he was in his career.
Uhm, it’s not a bad person to be compared to. He’s someone that definitely is historic and a great American tennis player.
Q. Do you feel any more pressure being defending champion?
VICTORIA AZARENKA: Uhm, no, not really, because I’m not here to defend, I’m here to win, to play tennis. That’s how I look at it.
You know, it’s my position, my mentality going into and starting the tournament.
Q. Do you see Serena as being the player to beat?
VICTORIA AZARENKA: Yeah, I think so. You know, everybody try to beat the top players. Every time I go on the court, you feel the same way. Everybody want to take your position, be the No. 1 player in the world.
When I wasn’t No. 1, I was feeling the same way. You get more excited. The job gets tougher for us, but also it’s more exciting this way.
Q. You didn’t get a chance to play Serena in Brisbane. Maybe it would have been a chance to try out your game against her before the Open started.
VICTORIA AZARENKA: You know, I kind of let go of that situation. There is no point to be disappointed or kind of have really any emotions about it anymore because that what happen. There is nothing I could do possibly to make it happen. I just really let it go.
I think I did a very good choice, by the way. I’m feeling good right now. So the only thing that I feel is that I made the right decision.
Q. What did the win last year do for you mentally, how you approach things?
VICTORIA AZARENKA: Well, it gave me a lot more self‑belief. I always thought of myself as a really good player. That mental edge to kind of make the difference, you know, it definitely helped to bring a lot of inner confidence in yourself, knowing that you can do it.
That feeling that I had was incredible. Since then, I want to feel it again. This is what motivates me even more every day. It’s amazing, when you achieve your dream, your goal, how much more motivated I was after that.
That’s really something incredible for me to feel.
Q. Is your injury a hundred percent better now?
VICTORIA AZARENKA: Yes.
Q. No problems at all?
VICTORIA AZARENKA: No. I mean, it’s healing. I don’t feel any pain when I play. I still have to tape it, but there is no problem.
Q. You’ve been one of the better doubles players, top singles players in the WTA for a while. You haven’t played doubles much lately. Is that something you’re planning on doing in 2013?
VICTORIA AZARENKA: Probably not. I felt like I did really good decision to stop playing doubles, to have my main focus not only on the court but off court to try to have the best recovery, the best preparation for my singles.
But I love playing doubles, especially play with Maria Kirilenko. We have so much fun. She’s probably one of the best partners I ever have. Playing mixed doubles is also really fun. I definitely enjoyed the Olympic Games this year.
Maybe right before I retire or next Olympic Games (laughter).
Q. You won the first‑ever gold in mixed…
VICTORIA AZARENKA: I guess I’m a mixed doubles players.
Q. Do you think you’d ever try to go that for here?
VICTORIA AZARENKA: Maybe. I actually wanted to play at the US Open with Kei Nishikori. He wanted to play. My knee wasn’t very good from Montréal, so I didn’t want to put any more pressure.
But I was really looking forward to play that. So maybe this year I’ll play with somebody.
Q. How do you feel having the No. 1 ranking next to your name? Some recently haven’t dealt with it very well.
VICTORIA AZARENKA: I think to maintain the level is probably harder than it is to get there because you have to be consistent, you know. It’s really difficult to maintain the same form throughout the years. You always going to have some up and downs.
But I felt, you know, really good that I stayed pretty much consistent throughout the whole year. That what kept me with the ranking.
I always try to look into improving my game, improve myself as a player, too, because results come always first for me. Trophies and the ranking is something that follows up that. So that’s not my main focus, what the ranking is. But it’s definitely not something you’re going to complain about (smiling).
Q. If you had gone into Wimbledon not playing the two weeks before, would you have been as confident?
ROGER FEDERER: Yes. I’ve done it many different ways. I’ve taken chances after Wimbledon only playing one event leading into the US Open, risking a first round loss. Very often I did go on and play well because I was well prepared.
Here it’s the same thing. I purposely didn’t play a lead up tournament that I’d be fresh for the beginning, hopefully going deep into the tournament. That’s the goal obviously.
Yeah, like you mentioned, I think it’s nice sometimes doing it slightly different than every year the same thing. Otherwise it feels like a déjà vu and that’s not always a good thing.
Q. You get asked this at the start of every season, but do you still love the game as much as you did five, six years ago?
ROGER FEDERER: It’s hard to remember back how it was when I was sitting here six years ago. But, yeah, I’ve enjoyed myself. I think it’s always a bit of a test for me going into the practice season. Am I hungry and motivated to wake up, go on the practice courts for hours? There was not one problem.
For me, that was good news. I was eager to improve my game, change it up a bit from all the tournaments I played this last few years now, to go on the practice court and try to improve my game there. I also go into the gym and get stronger again.
I enjoyed it. I think as long as that’s the case, that means I love it very much so. Today I take much more pleasure out of doing the gym work than I ever have. I used to honestly not really like it at all until I was maybe 22, 24 maybe at times. Today things for me make sense. I know why I’m doing them. I know they’re necessary. Sometimes it’s not the thing you want to do every day of the year, but I know it’s only a handful of weeks, then obviously you give everything you have.
Q. Your focus is obviously on your first round opponent. A lot of people have been talking about the potential matchup with Bernard Tomic. How have you seen his progression, his hopes for this year?
ROGER FEDERER: I mean, obviously you would think he’s definitely going to go up in the rankings than down after last year’s season, which was a bit of a rollercoaster for him.
I didn’t see anything at the Hopman Cup. I saw, yeah, 30 minutes maybe in Sydney. I don’t know what I can tell you, but I’m sure he plays similar to when he was playing well last year.
He’s a good player. We know how talented he is, what he can do. It’s obviously tricky playing him in Australia. He usually plays his best over here. Even the pressure you might think it’s a problem. That’s what people usually say. But I always say it’s best to be playing at home. You have confidence that you believe you can upset top guys. I’m sure he believes in that, as well. He’s also got his work cut out, you know, in the first few rounds. He will be making a mistake about thinking about me in the third round because he also has to get there.
Q. Is he a player you can see jumping into the top 10 in the next 12 months?
ROGER FEDERER: I think we should go step by step, see how it goes. Let’s speak in a year’s time. Everybody wants to jump from what’s his ranking 60 to 10 in a year. It’s hard to do. 10 is a big ask. Don’t forget how tough the top 10 players are right now.
Yeah, let’s go step by step.
Q. This is going to be your 53rd slam in a row.
ROGER FEDERER: Still here (smiling).
Q. Wayne is at 56. What does the record of 56 mean?
ROGER FEDERER: I know he played a ton in a row. I used to ball boy him, then I played doubles with him. Obviously he’s a good friend of mine. Something I’d like to share with him.
Then again, if I’m ready to play, I hope I can make it, I was thinking back how many times I’ve played already in the main draw of a slam. It’s been a lot. For many years I also came here for qualifying, back in ’99, for the juniors ’98. I go back 15, 16 years already I’ve been coming here every single year. A few times also for Davis Cup.
Longevity has always been something that’s been important to me. I’ve planned the season accordingly this year again, that I will not miss the majors because of injury. But then again sometimes you get hit with an unlucky injury just shortly before a slam. There’s obviously nothing you can do about it. The best of five, the rule in tennis, it takes to get deep in a tournament, there’s no easy ways.
I’m excited that I’ve played so many in a row and I hope I can keep the streak alive and see where it stops. We’ll see how it goes.
Q. He said he was surprised. Are you surprised?
ROGER FEDERER: Yeah, I am, too. It’s not something you really plan. You play when you’re ready. If you’re not, you’re not. When I was coming along, guys would not go to Australia. Like Moya wouldn’t play Wimbledon because he just thought, I’d rather take that time to get off and get ready for some more clay after Wimbledon. It was normal.
I came through that period of times a well. But I felt my game suited all the service surfaces, so I thought, Might as well go to all the different tournaments. Next thing you know, we’re here talking about it. It wasn’t something that was planned in any way.
Q. At the end of every year we say last year can’t possibly be better than the year that just finished. How do you think 2013 can outdo 2012?
ROGER FEDERER: Well, it’s difficult. There’s no Olympic Games. There’s an opportunity less there. But I’m hoping for another good year. They’re all different in many ways because this last one was very emotional. Obviously getting back to world No. 1 was a major goal of mine for last year.
So this year it’s maybe more of a transition year for me, you know, making sure I practice enough, I rest enough, to look at the longevity aspect, the tournaments I enter, that I’m in full force. That’s really what counts for me. So every tournament I play, I want to put myself in the position to win it.
I know I won’t win all the tournaments I’ll enter, but it’s important that I enjoy it and I try as hard as I can and put myself deep in the tournaments like I did last year really. I had very few early losses last year, and I hope I can keep up that good streak I have going.
Q. Perhaps the sport as a whole, not just as an individual, looking at the sport in general, what can tennis do to move on and to improve?
ROGER FEDERER: There’s always things we can do to improve. We try to do some subtle changes, I guess, then we do that are more extreme. I think tennis is seen in a very good way right now from fans and media alike, which is great. So it seems like it’s a great experience for the fans to come see the sport.
It’s not just a good live TV sport, but it’s also especially great coming to the grounds and seeing it live. The athleticism, just the whole energy that builds around a big match, night sessions, day sessions, the activity around the sites, always seem as good thing to do. That’s good.
Then obviously you always have to think ahead for all the slams, the whole ATP Tour, you want to make sure that the game is as good if not obviously better, that’s what you have to aim for anyways five or 10 years from now.
Q. Now that you made the experience of playing in South America, can you explain the enthusiasm you felt there? Wouldn’t it make sense to have a bigger tournament there that players like you could play every year there?
ROGER FEDERER: Look, this was obviously very unique because there was a big focus and emphasis on me showing up because they’ve never maybe seen me play live over there. So the excitement level was sky high, you know.
I was deeply impressed by the atmosphere, by the love for the game, for the appreciation they showed for me showing up. They made it one of the most fascinating trips of my life to South America.
So, of course, I’d hope to go there more often in the future. Obviously, this sport has gone extremely global in the last few years, or many years now, the ATP decided way back when. It looks like it’s only going to happen more often. The more global it goes, the more grueling it becomes. Asia having the Masters 1000 there, having the Masters Cup back then, it spreads the world of the tour for us.
I think it will be ready. At least I think it’s nice to see the top guys and top women going there for exhibition matches. That’s also a way to showcase tennis and our talents down there. It seemed they were very happy.
Who knows, maybe exhibition tours like this are going to happen more often in the future if there’s not going to be a tournament there.
Who knows, maybe they’ll get the World Tour Finals eventually. It’s not easy to get a Masters 1000, it’s not easy to snatch up those sanctions. Time will tell. The next five years are obviously key for South America with the World Cup, the Olympics, and the good players South America has such as Del Potro and other players. I think it’s a good time for South American tennis.
Q. Would you recommend to stage a Masters 1000 in South America?
ROGER FEDERER: It needs to make sense. Don’t forget, if you add one, you almost have to take another one away. Who deserves to have one taken away from them?
It needs to be thought through thoroughly or you just add one. Then again, maybe other places also deserve one. I don’t think it’s right now on the agenda. I think South America are happy the way things are right now, they would like some minor improvements. That’s all they care about. They just got Bogota, as well, which I think is a good thing. But we’ll discuss more about those kind of things in the future, I’m sure. It’s going to be interesting.
Q. When you look at the people that have a chance to win this tournament, anyone besides yourself, Andy and Novak that are contenders?
ROGER FEDERER: Yes. I think many of the top 10 guys have had a very good season. Look at how great Ferrer’s season was, we know the talents of Tsonga, Berdych won Davis Cup. Del Potro seems solid. He seems back as a contender for a slam. There’s always other guys just outside of the top 10 who I feel can always make a run for it. Obviously with Rafa not in the draw, that might mean for some of the players they only have to beat one of us, of the top three, maybe none. Who knows what the draw is going to do to us.
But I think so, that there could be some guys making deep runs at this tournament, yeah.
Q. After not playing so well, at a certain point, does it start to go the other way, say the hell with it, maybe that helps you play better?
SAMANTHA STOSUR: Well, yeah. I mean, I think for sure I can play better here. That’s obviously what I’m trying to do this year. The results so far obviously haven’t been favorable. I’m hopeful I can turn it around. Sometimes things in tennis can change very quickly.
I think it’s a matter of keeping at it, keep practicing, doing whatever you can to try to get that good result.
Q. Do you think a lot of people don’t appreciate how well you played in losing your last match?
SAMANTHA STOSUR: Look, I’m much happier with the loss in Sydney than what I was in Brisbane. There were quite a few improvements which I was happy with and which made me able to sleep a bit better that night knowing that I was able to make improvements.
But unfortunately you see that loss on the scoreboard. Yeah, you don’t watch the match, you just assume it was not so good, it’s another loss, she’s struggling.
But, yeah, I have to say I was happier with that. I think that’s going to hopefully, yeah, give me something to keep pushing for for this week.
Q. Is there any stress or element playing in Australia for you personally?
SAMANTHA STOSUR: Look, I think all the slams are quite similar in their own way. For sure things are different here. I wouldn’t say it’s worse or better or anything, it’s just different.
I think this year I do feel better about things. I don’t feel as probably uptight or stressed or anything like that than last year. I think last year I didn’t handle it so well. I do feel better about things at the moment. I need to try to play a bit better than what I have been.
With all the practice and preparation I’ve been doing these last two weeks and before it, hopefully it’s all going to come together this week for me.
Q. Have you seen the Sam Stosur versus Ovas video?
SAMANTHA STOSUR: Yes.
Q. What did you think?
SAMANTHA STOSUR: Pretty funny. Never seen anything like that before. Thought it was pretty cool.
Q. You’re not near any Ovas in the draw. Does that disappoint you?
SAMANTHA STOSUR: No. But to be honest, I haven’t seen the draw. I have no idea who is near me. At the end of the day, it is what it is. I know there’s a lot of Ovas around.
Q. Sam, Martina Navratilova came out and said she doesn’t feel that your kick serve and your weapons trouble the other girls on the tour as much. Maybe the surprise factor has gone out of your game. What do you think of those statements? Do you agree with her?
SAMANTHA STOSUR: To be honest, I haven’t read anything that she said. That’s all new to me.
Look, I think any players who have been around for a long time, other players start to work things out, then start to be able to do things against you that maybe they couldn’t the first few years you were around.
I still think my kick serve is a big weapon of mine. Still wins me a lot of points. Maybe you just need to keep working on the element of surprise.
I’m always trying to improve all parts of my game. It’s not a shot that I’m going to stop using by any means.
Q. How important is it playing in front of the home crowd? Does it spur you on, make you perform better?
SAMANTHA STOSUR: Well, I mean, I do love playing here. It’s always a nice feeling walking out on court, having the crowd cheering for you between games, whatever it is.
Me and the other Australians I think are very lucky to have a Grand Slam in our home country that we can really soak it all up and all that. It means you want to do extra well here because you are at home and you know you have all that support.
Yeah, I think it’s a really nice time of the year for all of us to be playing here.
Q. You won a Grand Slam on hard courts a couple years ago. How different do you think the conditions are here compared to that?
SAMANTHA STOSUR: I think these courts, I mean, they’re definitely different to the US Open. The balls, all of it put together, is quite different. Things seem to be a little bit slower, heavier here.
In New York I feel like I can get the bounce off the court, really use that and get the ball jumping out and all that pretty easily, whereas here I feel like I have to work for that a bit harder. If it’s not hot and sunny, it’s even harder again because the balls can get pretty heavy.
It’s part of how we play on different surfaces all year round. Another thing you have to try to work out, do other things to make it easier for you out there.
SAMANTHA STOSUR: Not really. There’s a lot of focus, but it’s not all focus for me. I try to block all that out. Like I said before, do what I can do, try to go out there and play as well as what I can play.
Last year I lost first round. Yeah, it really sucked for a few days watching the rest of the tournament. I bounced back and still had a pretty good year. I think that’s one thing I can remember: If it doesn’t all go well here, it doesn’t mean that everything else is a disaster.
I don’t want that to happen. I’m going to try my best to have a good result.
Q. Last year’s result, is that a little bit of a help this year?
SAMANTHA STOSUR: I wouldn’t say it’s a help (laughter).
Again, it is what it is. I lost first round last year. I certainly don’t want to go out first round this year.
Q. How do you feel?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Good. I’m feeling really good. Obviously, I would have loved to have gone into Brisbane and play that. I wish I would have had maybe two, three extra days to be able to practice some more overhead stuff and serve and whatnot.
Yeah, but I came here a little bit earlier than obviously I would have wanted to. I’ve been able to get a lot of good practice in, playing on center court, be in Melbourne for a little bit.
Q. Can you describe what happened? Did you wake up with the neck stiff in the morning? Was that the first time it ever happened that it was bad enough to prevent you from practicing?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: It was something I was feeling a little bit. Then I woke up I think it was the day before Christmas Eve, it was a Sunday. I was like, Wow, this is not too good. Christmas Eve I had to do like a few tests, machines, MRI. It was just not good enough, certainly not for Korea, Dr. (indiscernible). If I get anything in that type of area… He just wanted to make sure that I really took care of that.
Q. You’ve gone into Grand Slams a lot of different ways. Going in this time, does it really matter that you haven’t had match play or does it not matter at all?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: I would have loved to come in with a few matches. But sometimes circumstances don’t allow that, and that’s okay.
To me, I’d rather be going onto the court knowing that I’m healthy. Yes, I might be a little bit rusty, but I’ll work my way through it. I’m experienced enough to know the adjustments I have to make in those types of circumstances. I went to Brisbane. I certainly would have loved to step on the court and play those matches.
Q. You handled those junior boys okay, no problem?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Hmm. One of them was really on top of me and then I got really mad. I think he had eight set points and I ended up winning the set. I’m not going to tell who it is. Too embarrassed. I don’t think he slept well after that one.
Then another one, I think it was Luke Saville, we didn’t actually finish. The set took too long.
Yeah, it was just nice to be able to have different types of game styles as well.
Q. Joining Twitter sometime this month?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: I am.
Q. When is that going to happen?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: It’s a surprise (smiling).
Q. Do you have a user name picked out and everything?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Maybe (smiling).
Q. Can you give us a hint?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: I would tell you if I could.
Q. You were pretty active on Facebook. You’ve grown to like it a lot more now?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: That’s my New Year’s resolution, to be a little more active. I was getting a little lazy in the last few years. Certainly the last six months I wanted to step it up. I’m actually really enjoy doing it. I like to write. When I’m taking pictures now, I’m actually thinking of taking pictures for my fans to be able to see what’s going on in my life a little bit. I think it’s a really nice interaction. I also like writing, making it fun and interesting, giving a different perspective than what people see of me on a daily basis in my sport.
Q. Is Sugarpova putting it more out there as a saleswoman, a brand partially?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: I mostly do it for my fans. I think I have over nine million fans. I don’t quite really believe that. I think Max is probably just pressing the button all the time, all the different computers, all his different devices.
But it’s certainly a great way to reach out to the world. I mean, when I look at the incredible fan base I have from all around the world, no matter. I just went to Brazil, I haven’t been there in a few years, just to see the excitement, to see a different fan base.
When people write me letters, they mention their only kind of connection that’s more personal is through my social media. That’s when I realize it’s so important to me.
Q. Do you ever answer any of those letters? Nine million people are a lot.
MARIA SHARAPOVA: The letters or the Facebook posts?
Q. The communications.
MARIA SHARAPOVA: I don’t write letters back. Most of them end with, Can you please send me an autograph? Yeah, my mother and I actually have a whole system where she goes through all the mail and I sign as many as I can back.
Q. What was another New Year’s resolution?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Oh, I don’t know. You know New Year’s resolutions never come true. I just hope to keep one, so…
I’m not very good at those. But this one I’m going to try really hard.
Q. Tennis wise?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Are you asking me for my goals for this year?
Q. Whatever you want to talk about.
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Yeah, I mean, I certainly have a lot of goals. The off season was a really good time for me to look back on the previous year, just settle down, have some time off. I was also thinking about the things I want to work on, goals I want to accomplish.
But those are just step by steps. I don’t like to talk about my open goals too much.
Q. Because Serena has been playing so great and is considered by many as the favorite to win the tournament, does it take a little bit of the pressure off everyone else and put it pretty much on her shoulders?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: I think everyone reacts to it a little bit differently. There’s a reason why everyone’s playing here and everyone’s in the draw. You can’t worry about somebody else that’s not even close to you in a certain part of the draw. You have to take it a step at a time.
That’s certainly my goal and my job here.
Q. You’ve had a lot of tight matches with Venus over the years. What are your thoughts on that matchup?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: First of all, we still have to get to that point and then we can discuss it further.
There’s no doubt that she’s a champion, an experienced one at that. No matter where she’s ranked, what level she’s at, she’s a tough opponent.
Q. Has anything changed since last year?
ANDY MURRAY: Anything changed?
ANDY MURRAY: In what respect?
Q. In the global tennis way.
ANDY MURRAY: Yeah, I mean, obviously last year was by far my best year on the court. You know, I had my first Wimbledon final, the Olympics was obviously a great experience, then my first Grand Slam after that.
So, I mean, obviously it was aided as well by Rafa not playing. But I finished with my highest ranking that I ever finished before. So there were a lot of firsts for me last year, and that’s pretty important.
I was always saying, once you get to sort of your mid 20s, and I’d been around the same ranking for a few years, it’s important to try and find things to improve on and do things that, you know, you’ve never done or things you haven’t achieved before.
So that was obviously great to have been able to have done those things. And I’ll try and build on that this year.
Q. Does it feel like there’s a monkey off your back as a Grand Slam winner?
ANDY MURRAY: I think for most tournaments, yeah, it feels that way. Not just Grand Slams. You know, I kind of maybe always felt like I was having to prove something every time I went on the court, you know, ’cause I hadn’t won a slam. You know, even when you win a Masters Series, people still asked me always about the slams.
So it’s nice just to kind of not have to worry about that anymore. I think it will help me throughout the rest of the year, as well, on the tour ’cause I just won’t be worrying and thinking about the slams all the time, I can focus on all of the events that I’m entered in.
Q. You’ve been quoted several times as saying you never felt quite so relaxed coming into a Grand Slam. Could that relaxation almost have a negative effect? Do you need to be more revved up?
ANDY MURRAY: I’m very revved up. That’s not the issue. I didn’t at any stage say that I was ‘very relaxed.’ I feel more relaxed than I have done the week before a slam. In the past I think that’s going to kind of be natural. I felt that way after the US Open and most of the tournaments I played between then and the end of the year.
But, yeah, I mean, I didn’t work hard in Miami, you know, in the off season to come in and just not be focused or too relaxed or anything like that. I mean, I didn’t train over there for four weeks to come here and put in a really bad performance.
So, you know, I plan on playing well here.
Q. One statistic that people have mentioned is that the first time Grand Slam winners, in the open era, no first time Grand Slam winner has gone on to win their next Grand Slam. Is that something you’re aware of? Have you thought about it? Have you thought how you might deal with that?
ANDY MURRAY: I wasn’t aware of it. But, like I’ve been saying the last couple of weeks, I have no idea how I’m going to play here. I have no idea how I’m going to feel when I go on the court.
I said I feel more relaxed. But I don’t know the day when I play my first match, I could be unbelievably nervous. I don’t know what effect it will have on me until I’m put in that situation.
But I also know, you know, how hard these events are a to win. If I don’t win the Australian Open, I don’t think it will be down to having won the US Open. It’s down to the level of competition and how tough it is to win these events rather than what happened, you know, four or five months ago.
Q. Is there a little sense of unfinished business here, frustration maybe of last year’s semifinal against Novak, and the two previous finals as well?
ANDY MURRAY: Obviously I want to try to take the extra step but in all of the Grand Slams, if I can. I mean, I learnt a lot from last year’s semifinal. It was a very important match for me in the context of my year. It was very important. You know, I’m not frustrated that I got over that loss a lot quicker than I had some of my previous slam losses.
I felt like I played well. There was something I could really take away from it. And, yeah, that’s why I was disappointed obviously, but it wasn’t frustration.
Q. You said you learnt a lot. What else did you learn from that semifinal?
ANDY MURRAY: I mean, I could go through a huge list of things I learnt.
Q. How about four.
ANDY MURRAY: It was my first tournament obviously with Ivan. We chatted a lot before the match with Novak. When I sat down with him a month beforehand, a month and a half beforehand, you know, we discussed those sort of matches, how I was going to play and perform against guys like Novak, Roger and Rafa, tactics, how I was going to go about the match. I learnt to win those matches, I have to go out and do what I did that day.
I mean, you guys saw the match. I don’t need to go into huge detail about it. The way I went about the whole match was the right way. Even though I lost it, also the same thing happened at Wimbledon. I went about the match the right way. I was just a few points away from being a set and a break up. I felt that was the main thing that I learnt from it.
I was playing the right way in those matches. I was taking my chances. I wasn’t waiting for the guys to miss. I think that’s why those two matches in particular I got over a lot quicker than the previous slam final losses or slam semi losses.
Q. Do you sense the rivalry with Novak is going to build over the next 12 months?
ANDY MURRAY: I have no idea. I mean, I know, like I said, how hard it is to compete at this level and how tough it is to play well in the slams and give yourself a chance to play against those players.
Not worth making any predictions about rivalries or whatever. But, you know, when I do play against him, it’s a match I enjoy. They’re incredibly tough, physical matches. We played quite a few good ones last year in some of the biggest events. If I get to play Novak here, that would mean it would be in the final. So obviously that’s what I would like to do.
But I know how hard it is to get to the latter stages of these events.
Q. I remember a few years ago now you and he played doubles together.
ANDY MURRAY: Had massive hair.
Q. You came into the interview room. He was quite taken aback by the interest because the Serbian press didn’t travel as much as us. You were both sort of matey together. What is the mood like now that you’ve played the big ones together?
ANDY MURRAY: I mean, we get on well. Never in any matches have I had any problems with him, in practice. We’ve never had any issues with each other in the whole time we’ve been on the tour.
I know you see it in boxing. You find it amazing that after watching guys, you know, punch each other for 12 rounds, they hug each other at the end, they have more respect for each other after that.
I think after the matches we’ve played over the last year or so, you know, they have been incredibly physical, they’ve been tough. It has been pretty painful at times, some of the matches. But I think our respect for one another has probably grown over the last 18 months or so. But we never had any problems with each other.
Q. Can you not be as sociable with each other as you used to be?
ANDY MURRAY: No. I mean, I chat with him all the time and with his team when we see each other. I don’t really speak to him about tennis really ever, which I think is kind of normal. I wouldn’t ask him like how he feels he’s hitting his forehand or anything like that (smiling). I discuss other things with him.
That’s the one thing, we probably wouldn’t talk about tennis much.
Portions of transcripts from ASAPSports