Maria Sharapova was a notable presence at the Olympic Games in Sochi. (Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
INDIAN WELLS, Calif. -- Maria Sharapova insists that her decision to put her training on hold for a week to serve as an NBC correspondent during the Sochi Olympics didn't derail her preparation for what has been, in recent years, the most important stretch of the season for her. The defending champion at this week's BNP Paribas Open, Sharapova returns to the desert hoping to get a boost on her season.
"After Sochi, it was great to come back and get back on the court," Sharapova said during a pre-tournament roundtable. "From the time I started training to the Australian Open and Paris, it was a few months on the court. So it was great to have a little bit of a break and then start again. I love this period of time with Indian Wells and Miami. I've been quite successful with it in the past and obviously a great memory here last year. So it's nice to be back."
Despite the time off, Sharapova believes the break in the calendar for her after the Paris Indoors worked out perfectly for her weeklong trip to Sochi.
"I had something planned afterward, but I canceled it because it was a really tough week and I knew I needed to get back and start training," she said. "So I put a limit on it at some point. And I knew that I had trained and played a few tournaments and I knew that was a time I could really take to go there."
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Sharapova, now down to No. 5 in the rankings, has yet to reach a final in three tournaments this year, losing to Serena Williams in Brisbane, Dominika Cibulkova at the Australian Open and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in Paris. She has made the final in Indian Wells and Miami the last two years and has carried that momentum into the clay season. Over the last two seasons she is 57-6 during the period from Indian Wells through the French Open, making 10 finals and winning five of them.
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It remains to be seen whether she'll feel the residual effects of her four-month layoff to heal her right shoulder at the end of last season or the toll of her week in Sochi, which she described as "exhausting."
"I was just saying with Max [Eisenbud, her agent] that you don't really know what the next level of tired is really. Because I'm so in my sport," she said. "Of course it's so physical and it's challenging but you're so used to taking care of your body, making sure you get enough sleep, and you eat right. And everything in that week was completely shattered. You're not sleeping, you're eating terribly, you're drinking caffeine all the time to look like you're awake."
When told that she was describing the life of a sports beat writer, she had some sympathy. Kind of. "I'm sorry," she said, laughing. "Cry me a river."
Seeded No. 4 this week, Sharapova has been drawn into Li Na's half. A number of potentially dangerous matches loom against the likes of Sloane Stephens, Ana Ivanovic and Angelique Kerber. Sharapova, who has a first-round bye, will face either Jana Cepelova or Julia Goerges in the second round.