INDIAN WELLS, Calif. — The relaxed atmosphere out in the California desert made for a remarkably laid-back series of pre-tournament interviews with the top seeds at the BNP Paribas Openon Wednesday. In a series of wide-ranging roundtable discussions with the press, Maria Sharapova praised Serena Williams' return to the tournament after a 14-year absence, the top men, including Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, criticized Davis Cup and Caroline Wozniacki had to deal with an unexpected interloper.
Here are the highlights:
Maria Sharapova on Serena Williams' return to the tournament: "I think it's a great decision. I think it's great for the tour and it's great for tennis in general. Personally, I've always said—when you're playing any event, especially being at the top of tennis, you want to be playing against the best and as I've said before, she's the best. And you want to be in the same field as the best."
Roger Federer on the state of Davis Cup: "I think it's so obvious that there's things not working. It's obviously such a great competition. There are so good and bad things that whatever you say is just debating but nothing ever gets done and nothing ever gets changed."
Rafael Nadal did not mince words when it came to the ITF's management of Davis Cup, which does not encourage top players to commit to the competition every year: "Davis Cup is a historic competition in our sport and it is important to save these important competitions. And the way Davis Cup is moving, the only thing ITF is doing is every time the Davis Cup has less value. It’s like if in Australian Open this year the Top 5 players are not playing, next year from the Top 5 are playing one, next year are playing two. After 10 years it’s obvious the competition has less value than before. That’s what ITF is doing with Davis Cup and that is not positive for our sport and the competition."
Murray on Davis Cup: "It's just interesting how little effort seems to be made to change the competition. Because clearly, if every player is saying I love playing Davis Cup, but one every two years they decide not to play it would suggest it probably needs changing. Then you look at this week, Roger, Stan, Rafa, guys who didn't play come in with a huge advantage. It's such a quick turnaround. I would say it probably needs a look at if you want to get the best players playing every single year. But if the ITF doesn't want that or if the Davis Cup organizers are fine with the way it is and they're fine with the best players not playing all the time then they can keep it how it is."
More from Nadal: "If everything is perfect, fine. But in the end, the ITF lies to the fans and to everybody. Last year was great because at the end of the year Roger Federer won, Wawrinka won. But Novak Djokovic didn’t play, I didn’t play. Lot of important players didn’t compete. But sure the end the final is Switzerland against France, those are two important countries for our sport everything is fine and Roger wins and everything is a show, great. They are safe for two more years. But that is a lie to everybody. That is the same thing in 2011 when we won. But that doesn’t change the thing is not working well."
Count Stan Wawrinka in agreement: "If you look, I think the top guys play once every two or three years. So there's something wrong about that. It's not what it used to be, Davis Cup anymore. I think they have to look at that."
Federer on playing Indian Wells and Miami back-to-back: "I think it's tough that it's back-to-back. I don't mind the 10 days thing but when it's back-to-back 10 days there's a lot of time that gets wasted. Especially for those who lose in the first round it's a long break until the first round of Miami. And then let's say you don't play well again, then you've sort of wasted a month and nothing happens."
Sharapova on what she admires about Serena: "I admire the fact that even though she's been able to achieve everything she has she still has the passion and desire to get better. Just from a woman's perspective, especially at her age—not that she's old or anything—but at one point when you've achieved so much and you're so good at what you do there's always an easier option or an easier way. And she's chosen the toughest way and I really admire that because it takes a lot of work and a lot of sacrifice to do what we do."
Nadal still isn't happy about how tough umpires are on him regarding time violations, especially given the antics other players get away with: "It’s true, I’m a slower guy. It’s my fault. Really, I accept that. But it seems like today it’s worse and more important being five seconds late than breaking a racket. I saw in Australia a few times somebody with warning breaking the racket, doing a show, using bad words, and it’s ok. Nothing happens. So for the image of our sport, it’s worse to be five seconds late than to be saying bad words and breaking rackets, that’s better example for the kids? We’re not going to penalize that but my five seconds yes? Sorry. Ok I am late but it cannot happen that way."
Sharapova on her surprising decision to play in Russia's Fed Cup tie against Germany in April, which will be hosted on red clay in her hometown of Sochi: "I had a great time in Poland. We had a great team atmosphere. When we started talking about venues and where the next tie would be, when Sochi was mentioned I was all in for it. I talked to my team about it quite a bit. The period of time between Miami and Stuttgart is much shorter this year and we thought it would be great preparation on red clay. I'm not a teenager anymore and I don't know how many times I'll get to be able to play in Sochi. This was a unique opportunity."
Murray on his decision to bring Jonas Bjorkmann onto his team: "He was always extremely nice to me. I always chatted with him, I practiced with him a bunch, and I got on really well with him. I enjoyed his company.... Amelie does 25 weeks of the year so there's a lot more time in the year that I need someone to help. I'm not sure exactly which weeks Jonas would do and Amelie would do, but obviously there's a void there."
Eugenie Bouchard thinks "Twirlgate" was overblown: "Me personally, I didn't find it sexist at all. I think it's fun to talk about off-court things. I am a girl and I do care about what I wear and what it looks like and he just wanted me to show off my outfit. So it's a girly thing and because I'm a girl I think it's fine to ask that question.... I was actually at a pre-Oscar party and I met Mark Wahlberg and he was like 'I was so mad and I wanted to kill him and punch him' and he was getting so intense and I was like 'It's ok! I didn't think it was that bad.'"
More from Bouchard: "I did learn a lot last year. I played a lot of matches and what I noticed also was more high pressure matches at tournaments that lasted a two whole weeks, which is much more stressful and taxing on the body and the mind. I learned how tough it is on the tour and when you go deeper in tournaments, especially at Grand Slams, it really takes a toll ... I feel young and invincible but it does effect you. So this year I feel I'm choosing my schedule more wisely."
As Caroline Wozniacki was telling reporters that she's happy with her season, her good friend Agnieszka Radwanska decided to crash the party:
Radwanska: "She's lying!"
Wozniacki: "I don't know her."
Sharapova was the the room during Murray's roundtable, which led to this exchange after a slightly odd question:
Reporter: "How many Grand Slams are you expecting to win this year?
Murray: "How many am I expecting to win?"
Sharapova: "I love that question!"
Murray: "How many are you expecting to win?"
Sharapova: "I'm going next. I'll think about it."