For old times sake to remind us where it all started...!
June 16, 2003
Getting to Know Maria Sharapova
At age 15, Maria Sharapova was on Teen People's list of 20 teens who will change the world. In SPORT magazine, she was named as one of 21 athletes to watch for in the 21st century. Last week at the DFS Classic in Birmingham, the young, 5-foot-9 Russian proved she was deserving of these honors.
Sharapova, now 16 years old, charged through the main draw as a qualifier, knocking out three seeded players en route to her first WTA Tour semifinal. No.5 seed Nathalie Dechy and No.11 Marie-Gayane Mikaelian were the first two seeds to fall at the hands of Sharapova, both in straight sets. Sharapova may have needed three sets to win her quarterfinal match, but she was battling top seed and a fellow Russian seven years her senior, Elena Dementieva.
One set down, the younger Russian fought for the second set, claiming it in a tiebreak to even the match, then gained momentum in the third set to clinch victory 26 76(4) 62. Her successful run ended in the semifinals, when she fell to Shinobu Asagoe 62 26 76(3). Her triumphs on the courts of Birmingham certainly contributed to the strong ticket sales and increased publicity at the DFS Classic.
Sharapova started hitting tennis balls at four years old. At six, she participated in an exhibition in Moscow that featured a very well known tennis star, Martina Navratilova.
Apparently, Navratilova saw potential in the six-year-old Sharapova, and by age nine, young Maria was training at Nick Bollettieri's Tennis Academy in Bradenton, Florida.
For the Sharapova family, Maria's determination to become a top professional tennis player had its sacrifices.
In order to train in Bradenton, her father, Yuri, had to get a working visa for the US, but only Maria could accompany him. Because of visa restrictions and finances, Maria did not see her mother for two years. Being away from her mother and living at the Academy with girls almost twice her age forced Maria to mature faster than most kids her age. It was lonely at times. But, her fortitude would soon yield results.
At 14, on March 6, 2002, Maria made her WTA Tour debut at the Pacific Life Open in Indian Wells, and won her first match before falling to former world No.1 Monica Seles. On March 18, 2002, she appeared for the first time on the WTA Rankings at No.532.
Shortly afterwards, she captured her first pro title at an ITF Circuit event in Gunma, Japan, and ended 2002 with two more ITF Women's Circuit titles and a WTA ranking of No.188.
Her ascent up the WTA rankings continues with great leaps, most recently this week. Because of her success in Birmingham, Sharapova broke into the Top 100 for the first time on June 16, 2003, to improve her ranking from No.125 to a career-high No.88.
caught up with Maria Sharapova in Birmingham, England for the latest "Getting To Know..." profile.
You've had a great week on the grass in Birmingham, winning consecutive Tour matches for the first time in your career. Would you say grass is one of your favorite surfaces?
Grass is definitely my favorite surface because it really suits my game and also because it's special. There are only a couple of tournaments played on it, especially the biggest event, Wimbledon. It think it's lots of fun to play on.
With so much written about you in the press, comparing you to other players and predicting how good you are going to be, how do you manage to block out these distractions and concentrate on your tennis?
It's fine but it's tough at times, and sometimes, I want to get away. I accept that it's part of what I do. I've been getting the media attention since I was 13 - when I turned pro. I just do my thing and try to get on with it.
What are the most important pieces of advice you've been given, and who gave them to you?
My parents have been my best influence and given me the best advice in my life. They tell me to be strong, especially if I lose and to feel the same if I lose or win, to be happy no matter what. Happiness is what's most important.
When you're on the road at a tournament, what things do you do to get your mind off tennis, even for a short time?
I do my homework (Maria is in her second year of high school and studies via an internet school, which she loves). I also do yoga. This is my favorite thing because it's so relaxing. I have been learning about aromatherapy, so I like to light candles. And I love to read.
Obviously, I have to read my school books, but I love Russian literature and Sherlock Holmes. The mysteries are great, very clever, but sometimes I have to really wonder how he got from one point to another.
At the start of this year, what goals did you set for yourself? Are you on track to achieve them?
I didn't set goals for myself, except that I wanted to play my best and get as much experience as I could. So, in that sense, I am on track for that goal. This week on grass, giving me seven matches and some great wins, is the best experience. I can't really play too many events because of my age, so getting the maximum out of every event is very important.
With so much attention being paid to the rise of Russian tennis, does that put extra pressure on you to fulfill everyone's expectations?
I don't feel any pressure from it. I'm very happy that Russian tennis is going so well. I'm very proud to represent my country. I know that I have spent a lot of time in the U.S. to train for my tennis, but my heart is Russian, and all my family still live in Russia. It's very important to me - being Russian.
What part of being a professional tennis player do you like the most? The least?
The most - traveling, seeing new people and cultures and the great people we get to meet. I try to go sightseeing, but it is difficult because if you are winning, you are concentrating on the tournament and practicing, but if you lose, you have to get to the next event.
The least - hotel rooms, packing and unpacking, realizing that you don't have something with you that you need or would like to wear. Also, (choosing) restaurants - I like to eat as close to the hotels as possible. I hate walking far for food, and I've become sick from some places, so once I find a (restaurant) that is ok, I eat there four or five times a week.
The thing I dislike the most is being away from my mother. I miss her a lot when I travel.
I love the comment about Sherlock Holmes getting from one place to another!