'Now I'm going to cry. It's just too much. I'm going to miss him' - Maria Sharapova praises Andy Murray
Maria Sharapova spoke out about the lack of support from male players for the women's game in the wake of Andy Murray's retirement announcement.
The Scot has been lauded, perhaps more than anything since his emotional press conference on Friday, for the vocal way in which he has stood up for equality.
While few male players are publicly hostile, even fewer have championed the women's game like Murray.
Speaking after a 6-0 6-0 victory over Harriet Dart in the opening round of the Australian Open, Sharapova said: "Relatively speaking, I think they have been really tough, especially when it came to equality, as a general point.
"Sitting at a press conference in Wimbledon five, seven years ago, there was not a lot of warmth coming from that side or that perspective. That's tough. There is definitely a few exceptions in the game, and I'm sure that he's been one of them."
Sharapova did not add to the warm tributes to Murray but former US Open champion Sloane Stephens was gushing in her praise for the Scot.
The former US Open champion said: "I'm going to miss him. Honestly I think he's one of the nicest guys on tour. Everyone is always like, 'He's so dry, he's not funny'. He's probably the funniest person on tour.
"I hate when somebody dies and everyone wants to be, 'Oh, my God, they were such a great person'. And now he's retiring and everyone's like, 'He's such a great person'. But he was great before and nobody paid attention. It's so sad.
"Now I'm going to cry. It's just too much. I'm going to miss him. I think he's been great for the game, especially for the women. He's been so supportive. Judy raised a good, young lad. He's been quite the guy."
Fifth seed Stephens defeated fellow American Taylor Townsend 6-4 6-2 for her first victory at Melbourne Park since 2014, while Sharapova revealed that, despite not losing a game in a smooth performance against Dart, she is still struggling with her troublesome shoulder.
The Russian did not play after the US Open last year and said her doctor has described it as a "day-by-day pain management situation".
She said: "Obviously the shoulder hasn't been much of a secret in the past year. It's still not where I want it to be. I'm still working through some painful days. But I felt like I did all the right things today in order to get through that match."
Asked why, at 31, she is still putting herself through the pain, Sharapova said: "I still really have the passion for this. I enjoy seeing the effort that I'm able to put in, and I think that hard work will always ultimately come to the surface.
"Sometimes it doesn't come overnight, doesn't come in a year, and sometimes it comes maybe in very unrelated things in your life, and I believe in that. The way I handle my career today is the way I'll handle my life in 10, 20 years, and that's extremely important to me."
Second seed Angelique Kerber eased into the second round with a 6-2 6-2 victory over Polona Hercog.
Dark horse Aryna Sabalenka also won comfortably but Julia Goerges and Jelena Ostapenko are out.