Maria Sharapova goes from Winter Games to desert tennis

She went back to where it all started, to the wall in Sochi. Maria Sharapova, out of boredom really, as a child began smacking a tennis ball while her father played his weekly game a few feet away.

"My career started in Sochi," Sharapova said Wednesday, reviewing her trip home and to the Winter Olympics.

"Every player starts somewhere. To be able to celebrate that after so many years was special."

Sharapova, the defending champion, and other top women's seeds from the BNP Paribas Open at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden spent time with the media while others spent time on court on opening day.

For Madison Keys, the young American, that time, brief as it might have been, was worthwhile. In 53 minutes the 19-year-old Keys, 38th in the world, defeated Tsvetana Pironkova of Bulgaria, 6-2, 6-1.

For Vera Zvonareva, 29, the 2009 Indian Wells champion, her time may also have been advantageous, although she was beaten by Peng Shuai, 4-6, 6-0, 7-5. "I think my game is better than it was in Australia," Zvonareva said. "I can't complain too much."

Sharapova, who will be 27 in another month, didn't have any complaints either, although she said working for NBC during the Games wore her down more than a three-setter in tennis ever has.

After carrying the Olympic torch into the stadium — "It was really neat with my parents and grandparents watching me" — Sharapova became a sort of correspondent for the network, which wanted her to set up features in her native land.

"It was really exhausting," she explained. "I don't know what the next level of tired is. In tennis, you train, you eat right, you sleep right. I was not sleeping. I was eating terribly, drinking caffeine all the time."

Then sensing the response from the media, who well know the routine, she laughed. "Yeah, cry me a river."

Sharapova, a winner of all four Grand Slam tournaments, said her Olympic moment, chosen as the first of six Russian athletes to carry the torch to the cauldron, "was the biggest honor I could have received."

A familiar name had a short run at Indian Wells. Allie Kiick, 18, is the daughter of former football star Jim Kiick. She turned pro last year, and Tuesday qualified for this event. Twenty-four hours later Kiick was defeated by 22-year-old Kurumi Nara of Japan, 6-4, 6-0.

"She's a great player," was Kiick's comment of Nara, the same thing observers once said of her father, a running back on the unbeaten 1972 Miami Dolphins. "She was very strong toward the end."

Kiick, who turned down a chance to play for the University of Florida, knows her dad was known as Butch Cassidy, with fullback Larry Csonka the Sundance Kid. Her mother, Mary, was a professional softball player.

"They're athletes," Kiick said of her parents. " I got involved in tennis when we played family doubles, but we were always fighting, my father, my mother, my brother, yelling at each other. We are all so competitive. I went off on my own."

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