The Heart of Maria Sharapova
There are two things one immediately notices about Maria Sharapova when meeting her for the first time – her height and her stride. The former momentarily awes then quickly settles into the new normal. But it is the latter that offers a hint of the Russian tennis star’s approach to life.
The Heart Of Maria Sharapova
Maria Sharapova is not a walker. She is a strider, both literally and figuratively. She moves with the purposefulness of a woman who knows exactly where she is headed. It is a surety she was introduced to at age four, when she held her first tennis racquet, and which strengthened as her talent began to bloom.
A young Maria leaned on that same confidence when her father, Yuri, showed enough faith in her potential to build them a new home in Florida so she could be coached at the same academy that shaped tennis greats like Andre Agassi and Monica Seles. She landed in the United States at the age of seven without knowing a single word of English. In true character, she took it all in her stride.
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“When you are a child you do not think of it as such a big change,” the 29-year-old tells woman with drive in an exclusive interview. “You look back now and think wow, that was a big cultural shock. But at the time, I was continuing to play tennis, I was surrounded by new kids in a new country and I was learning a new language. Everything was unique and I loved it.”
“I was among kids who had the same goals and vision and we were all very competitive. We all wanted to beat each other and it was a really great competitive atmosphere.”
Yet the World No. 5 did face one of the biggest adversities in a child’s world – the absence of her mother. Visa restrictions held Yelena back in Russia for two years, a time that Maria wished they could have shared.
“Being away from my mother for the first couple of years was quite difficult,” she says. “You do not realise how hard that is until you have that distance. My father was great, he was there as much as he could between jobs and he always looked after me but there is nothing like a mother’s attention, voice and vision. At a young age, I think that is so important.”
The other thing the career Grand Slam holder believes is supremely important is making children’s dreams come true. This belief is the cornerstone of the Maria Sharapova Foundation – an organisation that helps children around the world achieve their dreams. It is her way of giving back.
“As a young girl, I was able to live my dream and I still live a big part of it today. I know there are many families that are not as fortunate whether it is financially, emotionally, being in a place that is surrounded by depression or living in the past from a natural disaster such as Chernobyl. It is something I focused on for many years.”
Maria’s soft spot for children plays out in her daily, public life as well. After a video shoot at Eureka Skydeck, she stepped out to a small crowd waiting to catch sight of her. Her strict schedule left no room for spontaneity but when a child stepped forward with a cap in hand, she paused mid-stride to oblige with an autograph.
These are the rare glimpses into the famously reticent athlete’s world. Maria is known more for her on-court prowess than sensational media statements and she intends to keep it that way until her memoir is published next year.
Only then will her 18 million social media fans and the rest of the world be given an insight into the private life of a young immigrant turned international sports star.
In the meantime, she speaks to woman with drive about her love for fashion, food and travel.
On health and fitness
Maria makes no secret she loves her food – both preparing and eating it. So she laughs when asked whether breakfast is her most important meal of the day.
“I like to eat so it is tough to discriminate a meal! Breakfast for me is the start and the core. It starts with water. I do not like almond or soy milk so I always have lactose free milk with my coffee. I also have a lot of fruit. Having breakfast gives you a good frame of mind for the rest of the day but not skipping meals is also important.”
As for her workout style, Maria favours body weights over machines to keep her in shape, and travels with a soccer ball that she uses as a medicine ball in the gym.
“I am trying to find ways and movements that do not need a lot of equipment but just a little bit of space. I have a few core exercises that I do (because) when your core is strong so many other parts of your body work well.”
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Maria’s impeccable style is a reflection of her love for fashion, and she readily concedes she would be a designer if she were not already in a dream career.
Being a professional athlete has not stopped her from dabbling in design, however, and in 2013, she linked arms with New York retailer, Henri Bendel, to launch a range of clothing and accessories under her Sugarpova label.
While she described her apparel line as “fun, bubbly and sweet”, her personal style is slightly different. Daily wear consists of pieces she can layer and dresses with sneakers during summer.
“For an event, I love Alexander McQueen and Givenchy. I am not crazy about too much colour or prints so I tend to go with neutrals. On court, it is not so much of the designer but the material or a detail that you do not see it right away until you hold the piece. Quality is much more important than something that just pops or stands out. It is always something you want to put on again and feel that it is timeless.”
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Years of constantly moving between time zones have not dimmed Maria’s love for travel in the least. Whether she is in an unfamiliar country or one that she has visited countless times, she persists in seeking out the new to keep herself inspired.
“I still love to travel. Even though my schedule is quite set and I know where I am going, I try every once in a while to visit a new city or a new part of a city and almost get lost in it. That is something I have done since I was a young girl.
I love travelling to Asia. There are so many places to visit and there are so many different cultures that are very unique. Japan is a favourite. I have not been to Cambodia or Vietnam and really want to explore both countries.”
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