Sharapova earns stripes with 'zebra philosophy'
By Mark Hodgkinson
Maria Sharapova has enjoyed such a precocious rise towards the top of the sport, and only very rarely does some of the celebrity sheen come off, but the teenage Russian yesterday revealed a softer, more vulnerable side to her personality. She said that she has some dark times on tour, days when she feels that "everything is wrong".
It was quite refreshing to hear such comments from Sharapova, the defending Wimbledon champion and already a global brand at the age of 18. She admitted that she is often only able to work through her problems with her very own "zebra philosophy", but perhaps more importantly, with the behind-the-scenes support that she receives from her mother.
Sharapova did not talk at length about her tennis itself, about any technical refinements she may have been making to her backhand, but about her relationship with her mother.
It is her excitable father and coach, Yuri, who tends to take centre-stage with his cries of encouragement and constant shakes of the fist, but Sharapova said that she relies on her mother, Yelena, to keep her sane in the strange and slightly unbalanced world that is the tennis circuit.
"I talk about everything with my mum. She's always the first person I call when I'm feeling down. It's not like you are going to be happy every single day and you are not always going to get your own way. You might wake up and feel like everything is wrong, you've been on the road for eight weeks, and you've got another four to go, and of course I have those moments all the time," Sharapova said.
"I call my mum, and I say, 'Mum, I want to go home'. But it's like a zebra; you have a white line and then a black line and then a white line. I always think that when I have a black line that there is a white line coming after it. That's my philosophy."
It may help Sharapova that her mother is removed from the sport, that Yelena does not travel with her and will almost certainly not even follow her daughter's Centre Court progress on television, as that offers the world No 2 some perspective. "She says that she can't watch my matches. She just says, 'If you win, I'll be very happy, but if you lose it's just another match'," Sharapova said.
Sharapova did not see her mother for two years after leaving Siberia at the age of nine, accompanied by her father, to train in Florida. They could not afford all three of them to be in America. So mother and daughter are used to having a relationship that is largely conducted over the telephone.
"Mum is the kind of woman who doesn't like the spotlight. She is very quiet. She doesn't like to be around the tennis world. I ask her to come but she doesn't want to if I am going to be practising the whole time and she is going to be in museums," Sharapova said.
"I get a lot of things from my mum. I've always admired her. She's very down to earth and very intelligent in a lot of things she does."
The defining image of last year's final, against American Serena Williams, was that of Sharapova afterwards attempting to call her mother on her mobile phone, giggling coquettishly at the lack of success. Sharapova explained that the problem was not, as thought, a lack of reception on Centre Court, but that she had forgotten that her mother was on a plane at the time, flying from New York to Florida, and would have turned her own phone off.
"Mum watched parts of the match as they had it live on the television on the plane. At the end of the match, she saw on the television that I was trying to call her. So she politely went up to the stewardess to ask if she could turn her phone on and talk to me. My mum is not the sort of lady to jump up and down," Sharapova said.
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