Maria Sharapova opened up about her coaching split from Jimmy Connors in an extensive interview with The New York Times, blaming her own negative mindset over the summer for their brief partnership.
The four-time Grand Slam champion hired Connors after Wimbledon and then fired him after just one match, a loss to Sloane Stephens at the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati. She shut down her season after that match with shoulder pain that had plagued her since before the French Open.
“Jimmy came in at the wrong time and in the wrong place,” Sharapova said. “When he came in post-Wimbledon, I don’t think any coach could have succeeded in the frame of mind I had at that time. Because I was going to practice, and I knew I couldn’t serve, and I knew that there was a good chance I might not play the U.S. Open. As an athlete, that’s tough to digest. I was not fun to be around, and it was a tough position for him.”
Amid the pain, Sharapova put together a solid clay-court season, winning the title in Stuttgart, Germany, and making the final of the Madrid Open. But after beating Stephens in the third round of the Italian Open, Sharapova withdrew from the tournament, citing illness.
“I don’t know how I won that match [against Stephens],” Sharapova said. “You can even go back and watch the video and see my face is totally white, because I know something is not right.”
Sharapova pulled herself together for the French Open and returned to the final (where she lost to Serena Williams), but her shoulder held her back through the hard-court season.
“I think when you have surgery on any part of your body, it’s never going to be the same,” Sharapova said. “I think for me, it was a lot of matches, and I’m very loose-jointed, so changes come, change of weather, change of balls, I am quite sensitive to that, and I think everything just kind of piled on.”
Sharapova underwent platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injections to help rehabilitate her right shoulder, the same treatment Rafael Nadal has had in the past to heal his ailing knees. She says she’s now back to serving with a pain-free shoulder, which required surgery in 2008.
Sharapova also spoke about her decision to blast Williams at Wimbledon after Williams was quoted in Rolling Stone taking an apparent dig at Sharapova’s boyfriend, Grigor Dimitrov.
“If she wants to talk about something personal, maybe she should talk about her relationship, and her boyfriend that was married, and is getting a divorce and has kids,” she said during her pre-tournament interview at Wimbledon.
From The Times:
“The thing is,” Sharapova said at lunch, “I didn’t say anything that was not true, so it’s not like some secret she told me that I gave out to the world. I said something that everyone knew, except no one expected me to say it.”
Told that many people were stunned that she had said it, Sharapova was caught by surprise herself. She started laughing so hard that she disappeared from view as she slumped, clinging to her fork, and slowly sank below the surface of the table. When she reappeared, she quickly grew serious again.
“On the court, I have the utmost respect for her; I really do,” she said of Williams.
And off the court?
“It’s different,” she said. “I don’t know what it is, but it’s different, and to me, even though that tennis is such a huge part of our lives, at the end it’s such a small part of our lives, and I value so many other more important things in life than just the sport.”