Sharapova returns home
Russia’s former World No. 1 makes the journey back to her roots in Chernobyl
Globe and Mail Update
Published on Friday, Jul. 16, 2010 10:48PM EDT
Last updated on Saturday, Jul. 17, 2010 12:03AM EDT
Maria Sharapova left the following post on her website earlier this week: “Home sweet home. After 10 weeks on the road!!! I could not wait to get to my favorite coffee shop. No time for jet lag, I am training hard, getting ready for a world team tennis match (July 20 in Newport Beach, Calif.,) and Stanford (the WTA Tour event in Palo Alto, Calif., starting July 26).”
It was an eventful 10 weeks away from her residence in Huntington Beach, Calif., as she returned to the tour, after a troublesome elbow ligament injury in mid March, to play two months later in Madrid (first-round loss to Lucie Safarova), then the low-level event in Strasbourg, France, (winning the title), the French Open (third round loss to Justine Henin), Birmingham, England, (loss in final to Li Na) and Wimbledon – a round-of-16 loss to Serena Williams by a 7-6(9), 6-4 score.
In the latter match, possibly her best performance since returning in April last year from 2008 shoulder surgery, she held three set points in the opening set against eventual-champion Williams.
“I take a lot out of it,” she said about the solid showing. “Ultimately, I look back at the whole trip, kind of looking back at not being great in Madrid, not really feeling that I was ready to be out playing a tournament. (Then) working my way up and working toward that (the Williams match), and putting myself in a good position to do really well. A few mistakes that I shouldn’t have made could have ultimately led to winning the first set, and you never know what can happen.”
Before the US Open at the end of August, Sharapova’s schedule includes Stanford, Cincinnati (August 9) and the Rogers Cup in Montreal (August 16).
After Wimbledon, she went to Chernobyl area in Belarus, where her mother Yelena and father Yuri once lived. They moved away to Siberia after the devastating nuclear reactor explosion there on April 26, 1986. It was reported the accident produced 90 times more radioactivity than the atomic bombs that exploded in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, during World War II.
Sharapova was born in Nyagan, Siberia, exactly 51 weeks after the Chernobyl disaster, which actually took place in Ukraine but most heavily affected Belarus.
She was supposed to visit two years ago but had to cancel the trip to get treatment on her injured shoulder. She said, during a conference call on Friday, that she is happy that she went now because more projects are underway, including one that received a $250,000 (US) donation from her. “At first my initiative was to really spread the world around the world that something like this is still affecting so many lives in those regions,” she said. “The main problem for all those people is their lack of belief in recovery. Still on a current basis, people are affected because of the radiation.”
Sharapova, 23, explained, about the projects, that there are “a few different ones, because Chernobyl hit in three different countries, Russia, Belarus and Ukraine. We have a total of eight projects, based around children.”
Summing up, she said, “To go there and to actually see the progress that’s being made in the projects that I’m involved with, and the reaction from the people in those towns, was amazing. And I got to see my grandma who I haven’t seen in... forever. And I got to go back to the apartment where my dad used to live – both of my parents are from Belarus so it was kind of like back to the roots for a little bit of a reality check in a way.
“To actually hear from the people that I work with and from the students that I kind of sponsor their university and their art university and their tuition throughout the year – I got to speak to them and finally meet them. To hear about the progress and what we should do is a little bit different hearing in person than hearing them over email or over the phone.”
Sharapova did more traveling in Europe, going to Sweden to spend time with officials from one of her major sponsors, Sony Ericsson, and also visiting Italy with her boyfriend Sasha Vujacic, the Slovenian guard for the Los Angeles Lakers. At 6-foot-7, Vujacic makes the 6-foot-2 Sharapova look, proportionally, like a more normal-sized girlfriend.
After a disappointing season, and some spotty performances in the playoffs, Vujacic made two free throws with 11.7 seconds remaining in the seventh game of the NBA Finals to seal the Lakers’ 83-79 victory over the Boston Celtics.
Asked where she was when Vujacic hit the two perfect swishes on June 17, four days before Wimbledon began, Sharapova said, “I was closing my eyes in my house in London.
“I was happy and thrilled and excited. I got to watch the majority of the games when I was home (in Los Angeles) and (then) I was on the road for a little while. It was actually the only game that I stayed up and watched and it was a great final.”