In the mind of Maria Sharapova
In the Mind of Maria Sharapova
The Desert Sun
March 10, 2006
INDIAN WELLS - A double-bagel victim at the hands of Lindsay Davenport in the semifinals of the 2005 Pacific Life Open, Maria Sharapova returns to the Indian Wells Tennis Garden in search of redemption.
"Oh yeah, I remember," Sharapova said of her 6-0, 6-0 defeat, "but I try to forget really quickly. It was just one of those days where nothing was going right for me. I don't think a lot of times in my career I'll be experiencing something like that."
Catapulted into superstar status after she won the 2004 Wimbledon singles title at age 17, Sharapova remained a fixture in the top five of the WTA Tour rankings and off the court the blonde bombshell cashed in on her fame. Last June, Forbes magazine listed her first among female athletes in the world with annual earnings of $18 million, and her endorsement revenue accounted for about 90 percent of that total.
Her face plastered everywhere, from billboards to commercials to magazines, Sharapova-mania spread across the world over the past two years. Arguably the face of the WTA Tour, she wears a target on her back that brings out the best in her opponents.
"At my first press conference announcing that I was playing the game again they asked me who do you want to play that you haven't played before, and I'm like 'Of course, Maria' because she's a player that's gotten to the top winning Wimbledon at 17," former world No. 1 Martina Hingis said. "I was just interested. I love playing her and hopefully we'll have many more matches."
Ranked fifth in the world, Sharapova split her two matches with Hingis thus far in 2006, and she notched victories over Nadia Petrova at the Australian Open and Lindsay Davenport at Dubai. But in all three events she walked away a loser, twice to second-ranked Justine Henin-Hardenne and once to Hingis. Her title drought dates to 2005 when Sharapova fell short of the dominance she held in market appeal.
Winner of 41 of 48 matches through Wimbledon, Sharapova secured the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour top ranking, but she lost the top spot a week later to Davenport. Riddled with nagging injuries down the stretch, Sharapova lost five of her final 17 matches and dropped to fourth in the rankings, the same spot she held in 2004. Overall, she won 53 matches and three tournaments, but her play in the Grand Slam events fell short of expectations, other than maybe her own. She bowed out in the semifinals of three Grand Slam events and lost in the quarters of the French Open.
"I think I have been one of the most consistent players on tour in the past year. It just takes time for me to get past maybe playing two tough matches," Sharapova said. "Physically I'm not at the point yet where I can come out and play Justine and beat her easily. There's no rush. I'm not losing first or second round. Semifinal is not a bad place to be."
Throughout the ups and downs of the past year, Sharapova said she matured emotionally and physically. From a physical standpoint, she shot up another inch to 6-foot-2 and her muscles took their sweet time to catch up. She felt awkward on the court throughout that process and just recently found her comfort zone.
"Overnight your muscles are not going to adapt to your bones," she said. "I'm done growing. I only grow when I put my high heels on now."
Still a teenager, Sharapova took a step toward adulthood a few months ago when she bought a house in Los Angeles on Manhattan Beach. She lives primarily with her mother in Bradenton, Fla., but over the past few months she frequented Los Angeles to decorate her new home.
"I spend so much time here I decided I finally need a house," she said.
Away from the courts, Sharapova lives the life of a Hollywood star. Her advertisement for Canon, where she serves and then the camera zooms out to a brick wall with the words formed by tennis balls says, "Maria was here. Canon PowerShot" plays on virtually every network. Last month, Sports Illustrated released its swimsuit issue with her featured in a six-page spread and in the bottom right corner of the magazine cover lies Sharapova with the words underneath her, "Maria Sharapova As You've NEVER Seen Her."
The WTA Tour undoubtedly profits from her notoriety, but some critics argue that all of her endorsement spots and photo ops take away from her time on the court and thus take away from her game. Sharapova argues otherwise.
"Every time I'm on the tennis court I know why I'm there. I know I'm there to play tennis," she said. "No one has pushed me to do things I don't want to do. I love everything I've done."
Already accustomed to the spotlight at age 18, Sharapova anticipates a brighter future both on and off the court with her transition into adulthood. "You grow up and you mature. Your tennis matures and you know I think there's a lot more maturing to do, so that's exciting. In my mind I know I can be better than I am," she said. "Some people might say I'm not there. I'm too young. I still think there are so many things that will make me better, and it's not going to come when I'm 19 or 20. It's going to come in a few years. People have to realize that, and I do and that's the most important thing."
But I, being poor, have only my dreams
I have spread my dreams under your feet
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams