Sharapova: I can't control what people say
Sharapova says she is not bothered by the criticism surrounding her return from doping ban
It was somewhere between a smile and a sneer.
It appeared on Maria Sharapova for an instant as she strode to face the media at Stuttgart's Porsche Arena.
This was the first time that the Russian would address a post-match press conference since January 2016, and she knew what was ahead.
Sharapova had just beaten Italian veteran Roberta Vinci 7-5, 6-3 in the first round of the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix yesterday morning (Singapore time, in her first competitive match) since her 15-month doping ban came to an end.
"I love being in situations where I have to figure out a way how to get through it and how to win," said Sharapova, when asked what she missed during her suspension, which was imposed after tests found heart drug meldonium in her system.
"(Tennis) puts you in certain positions where you have to adjust, so you have to keep your focus, you have to keep playing the same way, you have to know what you did right to get there.
"Or if you are down, you have to turn around as quickly as possible.
"It's a jigsaw puzzle and I missed that feeling."
She’s a cheater and I don’t think a cheater in any sport should be allowed to play that sport again.Canadian star Eugenie Bouchard on Maria Sharapova
Out on centre court yesterday morning, the 30-year-old Russian did just that.
Sharapova started slow, falling 2-0 behind to the 36th ranked Vinci.
Then she shook the rust off her forehand, showed off the shine in her now-sharper serve, and went on to win - with her all-too-familiar shriek in accompaniment.
Her approach in the packed press room, teeming with journalists from across the globe, was the same.
"I'd be prepared to play in the juniors if I had to," said Sharapova, when asked if she would play in the qualifiers if she does not receive a wildcard for the Grand Slams as she had in Stuttgart, and will also receive in Madrid and Rome.
The same old competitive streak was there for all to see.
She bristled when hit with a question on her medication plan to replace meldonium, shutting it down with a steely glare and a single sentence.
"That information is between myself, the WTA and my orthopaedic doctor," said Sharapova, who was scheduled to play compatriot Ekaterina Makarova in the second round last night.
There was also a hint of a new-found perspective in the Russian.
She said of her life away from the Tour: "I'm not an individual who's angry or bitter and, over the past many months, I was very much present in my life.
"There are a lot of things that I probably would have never done in my 20s. I was studying, I was working, I was learning, growing my business... it was very liberating."
Sharapova also asserted that she is now not bothered by criticism, and there have been plenty recently, with some even calling her a "cheater".
"Words, quotes and articles are not what matter in life, and I've learned that very well in the past year," said Sharapova.
"At the end of the day, what matters is what happens on the court, and that's why I'm here."
Sharapova triumphed out on the court, and seemed to be winning in the press room, too.
One thing she did not win - or hopes to win - are friends in the WTA locker room.
She sent that message home like one of her forehands - straight to the point and with aplomb.
"(So they) have nicer things to say about me in press conferences? What will that change to my tennis?" she said, when asked if she will attempt to build bridges with other players, including those who have criticised her.
"That's not very impactful in my life. I have a great amount of friends at home, all over the world, that I speak to and that I talk to - those matter to me," she said, drawing the line that seemed to sit between the smile and the sneer.
"I can't control what people say and I never have.
"The only thing I can control is what I do out there.
"I'm always prepared to walk the walk and I have and I've done that by winning five Grand Slams and being No. 1 in the world."
Sharapova may not win friends, but she will likely pick up from where she left off: Winning matches, drawing tennis fans and the world's press to arenas.