Learning a few words of Russian proved timely for a Slovak journalist on Saturday while interviewing Maria Sharapova ahead of her 10th Australian Open campaign.
Buttering up the press from the outset with promises of her signature candy for best question, the world No.2 clearly wasn’t letting a lack of match-play bother her as she joked that none of the English questions warranted the reward.
For the record, that only Russian-speaking journalist bagged the candy (he had never heard of it). The translation was indiscernible, but what was apparent to all who missed out on the Sharapova candy was her competitive intentions in a city where she feels at ease.
“I'm not sure if it's because you're training for a month and a half and you're officially bored of training and life in that period of time that you really want to get going again,” she said, having arrived early in Melbourne because of her Brisbane withdrawal.
“You're just over the fitness, you're over your coach for a little bit. You really want to go out into a match atmosphere. Part of it is because you're coming here. It's summertime. Everyone is in a great mood, chatty, probably half drunk (because) it's so hot, you just want cold mojitos. But, yeah, I love it. (Australians) are so passionate about the sport itself.”
And after weaving her way through the draw to the decider in Melbourne Park last January having not played a warm-up event, it would be unwise to underestimate her again.
Last year it was a bad ankle that had many writing her off as arriving underdone for the year’s first major. This time it was a niggling neck injury she woke up with two days before Christmas. It wasn’t enough to ruin her celebrations and she was adamant it had cleared up now.
“It actually gave me an extra couple days at home. I had more time to wrap,” she said.
“I would have loved to come in with a few matches. But sometimes circumstances don’t allow that, that’s OK.
“To me I’d rather be going on to 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 court and play those matches.”
Sharapova instead has challenged the crop of Australia’s rising junior boys to matches in preparation for the coming fortnight.
“I think one of them got a wildcard in the main draw ... one of them was really on top 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,” she said.
“Another one, I think it was Luke Saville, we didn’t actually finish. The set took too long. Yeah it was nice to be able to have different types of styles as well.”
Sharapova should have few difficulties seeing off 105th-ranked fellow Russian Olga Puchkova in the first round, with her first serious test probably to come against 25th-seeded American Venus Williams in the third round. They first played more than eight years ago, with Sharapova having won four of their six showdowns.
“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,” Sharapova said.
Whether it be for Williams or any other rival, Sharapova had just one warning: “Just because you’re rusty doesn’t mean you’re not going to play well.”