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Navratilova: Maria Sharapova was the ultimate competitor

Martina Navratilova assesses the storied career of five-time major winner Maria Sharapova following her retirement from the sport.

By Martina Navratilova

Above all else, Maria Sharapova was a competitor on the tennis court, as intense and as ferocious as anyone who has ever played the sport. And while competitiveness is celebrated in men, and seen as a big plus, women are quite often put down for it. I can relate to that, and I think that was sometimes tough for Sharapova.

But Sharapova, who announced last week that she was saying goodbye to tennis, didn't ever change who she was as a person, or let go of who she was as an athlete, just because other people didn't happen to like her competitive nature. Let me put it this way, you wouldn't have wanted her as your opponent, she wouldn't take her foot off the gas even for a moment.

Throughout her career, Sharapova marched to the beat of her own drum - she wasn't in tennis to win popularity contests, whether with the public or her peers, and perhaps she wasn't always as appreciated as she could have been, but she did what she needed to win, and that worked for her.

Right to the end of her career, Sharapova still had the same mental toughness that had always defined her. That never left her. That's why the last couple of years must have been so tough for her, as she was trying just as hard as she had always done. Her mind hadn't changed, but her body was saying: 'Naah, it's not going to happen anymore.' That had to be frustrating for her because the effort was there but the results weren't, so I wasn't surprised to hear she had decided to hang it up. I had been expecting this news for a while.

While Sharapova won Wimbledon at 17, I don't think that was her greatest achievement. In my view, that Wimbledon run wasn't as impressive as her two French Open titles in her twenties. In her early years on the tour, as a clay-court player she called herself a "cow on ice" because of the way she was moving and playing on the surface. Back then, her game was much better suited to hard courts and grass than it was to clay. But Sharapova kept at it until clay became her best surface at the end - the French Open was the only major that she won twice.

Those two titles at Roland Garros were an illustration of how Sharapova made the most of what she had, and how she adapted her game. While Sharapova was hitting huge forehands and backhands, she knew that she wasn't the best all-round player so she worked at her game. She improved her drop-shot and her game at the net. Up until her shoulder injuries and surgeries, Sharapova had a great serve. But after her shoulder surgery her serve was never the same again. More than anything else within her game, be it her body or head, her serve let her down the most. And when your serve isn’t there for you, it really bleeds into the rest of your game both physically and emotionally.

Sharapova will be partly judged by her record against Serena Williams. Unfortunately for Sharapova, you can be the most mentally tough player in the world but sometimes there will be a player you just don't match up that well against, and that was Williams. That match-up against Williams just didn't favor her, particularly as the American certainly served a lot better. Sharapova was good enough against everyone else but Williams always got up for her matches against the Russian. To her credit, Sharapova never relented in those matches, that wasn't in her nature.

I'll remember Sharapova's career for her sheer competitiveness, for her never giving anything less than her absolute best.

 

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Sharapova always had 'eye of the tiger' – Joyce detected Russian's drive at age nine

Omnisport Mar 4, 2020, 1:43 AM

Michael Joyce can still vividly remember being told to "hit it harder" as he put a nine-year-old Maria Sharapova through her paces.

Joyce had never met the youngster before that day in Los Angeles, where it was Sharapova's father, Yuri, who was urging the ATP Tour player not to give his daughter an easy ride.

By the time he was nearing the end of his playing career and Sharapova was in her mid-teens, Joyce was being instructed by coach Robert Lansdorp to "kill" the Russian during practice matches after being employed as her hitting partner.

Little did Joyce know he would soon be calling the shots, not only hitting them, after being appointed as Sharapova's coach in 2004.

The American saw the "eye of the tiger" in Sharapova, who retired aged 32 last week, during such one-sided hitting sessions that laid the foundation for a successful seven-year alliance.

Joyce, who helped the global icon win two grand slams and become world number one, told Stats Perform: "The first time I met Maria I think she was nine years old, I was on the tour at the time and when I was back home in LA I used to go and take a lesson with Robert, who was my coach growing up.

"One day he asked if I'd take a hit with this young Russian girl who had come in to take a lesson, he said she's awesome and tried so hard.

"She came on the court and I remember it like it was yesterday. I'd never really hit with a nine-year-old, so I was taking it easy and then her Dad, who couldn't speak English that great at the time, was telling me I could hit harder.

"Maria was diving around the court, running after the ball, I kind of developed a little bit of a relationship with her then.

"It turned out when she was 15, 16 I was playing the last couple of years on tour but my Mom was really sick with cancer, so I was spending a lot of time at home and making a little extra money as a hitter for Maria and I could still beat her pretty bad at the time.

"By the time I was travelling with her full-time, it was not like being with a complete stranger.

"Looking back, I knew she was special. Of course I didn't know at nine, I had no idea then, but by the time she was like 15, she was already trying to play some pro events.

"You could tell at 14, 15 she had this competitive drive and kind of like the eye of the tiger. I remember sometimes I'd be hitting with her and Robert would say 'play a couple of sets' and I'd say 'Robert, listen, how do you want me to play? Make it close?'

"He'd be like 'no, kill her.' I'd feel bad I'd be beating her 6-1 4-0 or something and she'd be trying so hard just to win a game. I notice that drive from her straight away, she loved to compete.

"I could see a lot of things I could improve on, so once I started working with her full-time, I could work on her taking the ball early, strategy, improving her forehand etc.

"The one thing that sticks out with her is that when she was playing from the first tournament almost until the end, I always knew whoever she was up against would have to go through hell to beat her, as she never gave up. She had this belief that she was always in it until the last point."

Joyce, now coaching Timea Babos, believes the five-time major champion will be a big loss to tennis.

"I remember going to South America to play a couple of exhibitions when she was about 21, we went to Chile and there was probably 20,000 people there. Then we went to Argentina and everywhere we went everybody knew her," he said.

"There is a certain aura about some athletes and she definitely had that. Everywhere she went there were big crowds, whether she was practicing or playing, everyone in airports would know her, walking down the street. That is special and doesn't come around often.

"There are so many girls playing now who probably look up to Maria. They might say they don't like her or this and that, but you think of a girl that is mid 20s or so, when she won Wimbledon [aged 17] they were young kids, so for sure they are looking up to her.

"They might not admit it now, but she would have been looking up to her when they were kids."

 

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The Maria chat starts around 23:30 for those interested. It’s well worth a listen.

It was interesting to hear Max say those close to her were actually hoping for her to retire sooner, it sounds like she’s really struggled the past 18 months. Although it still feels sad, this is the right decision for Maria. A shame he doesn’t think we’ll ever see her play in an exhibition, but not entirely unexpected ?
 

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I was thinking the same. Though I'm sure if any slams invited her back for anniversary trophy presentation she'd go.
 

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Maria Sharapova could have won 10 majors without shoulder injury – Joyce

Omnisport Mar 6, 2020, 7:06 PM

Maria Sharapova could have won at least 10 grand slam titles if she had not suffered a shoulder injury that took away "one of her biggest weapons", Michael Joyce believes.

Sharapova retired last week aged 32, revealing her body had become a "distraction" after being troubled by injury problems for much of her career.

The former world number one was out for nine months following a first operation in 2008 and coach Joyce had to work on remodelling the Russian's powerful serve in order to prolong her career.

Sharapova won the French Open twice following her return to take her major haul to five and complete a career Grand Slam, but could not add to that tally after a 2014 triumph at Roland Garros.

Joyce, who coached the global icon from 2004 to 2011, says it was a huge achievement just to come back from the surgery early in her career and is sure there would have been more major glory if she had not been so unfortunate with injuries.

He told Stats Perform: "What a lot of people don't realise is her coming back from that shoulder surgery was a win itself.

"We tried to do everything to not have surgery, but it got to a point where nothing we did was helping her.

"When the doctors went in I was there with her and the doctor came after about 30 minutes and said, 'Listen, I couldn't really do much, she had a tear in her rotator cuff, the way her shoulder is built I could have tightened it up, but then she could maybe not ever serve again'.

"He said he just cleaned it out, but told me I am the coach and have to figure out when she comes back if there is something mechanically she is doing or whatever.

"We'd had about a year of changing her service motion and trying different things, she went through a period where she was double-faulting, so people were questioning what we were doing and why she couldn't get the serve in.

"She had a great serve, but at the time her shoulder wasn't strong enough to do her normal long motion. She got back to the top 10 basically without one of her biggest weapons.

"The rest of her career I think she managed it, she could still serve big but I don't personally think it was anything like before she had the injury. I think if she hadn't hurt her shoulder she could probably have won double-digit grand slams.

"For her to come back and win the French Open a couple of times, because clay was her worst surface when she was younger, was because the serve is not as important on clay.

"For somebody to transform their game in a way to win more grand slams on their worst surface is incredible, it shows her resilience and determination."

 

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Japanese trainer who helped Sharapova conquer French Open reflects on her retirement

March 8, 2020 (Mainichi Japan)

Maria Sharapova, 32, the former women's tennis world No. 1, called time on a professional career that had seen great heights and difficult lows by announcing her retirement on Feb. 26.

Looking back on her journey up to that point, her former trainer Yutaka Nakamura, 47, commented, "I think she gave it everything." On the morning of Feb. 26, immediately after Sharapova had announced her intention to retire, Nakamura gave her a call. He congratulated her on her hard work, and she thanked him for all of his efforts in the up and the down periods.

For seven years starting in 2011, Nakamura worked as Sharapova's personal trainer. She was an athlete who totally devoted herself to her training. While working together, she achieved her goal of winning the French Open grand slam tournament in both 2012 and 2014.

Revisiting those memories had Nakamura all choked up, but the Sharapova on the other end of the phone did not seem sad, and instead gave a sense of being ready for the next challenge.

In January, Sharapova was eliminated from the Australian Open in the first round. Talking about her decision to retire, Nakamura said, "The athlete who won (the tournament) was 21 years old, and players aged 10 to 19 are performing well, too. With the competition getting harder, maybe she thought now was a good time to bow out.

"She also has an interest in business, and I think after retiring from tennis she will reflect on what she's learned from the sport and become someone who is an influence to those around her."

In 2004, Sharapova won the Wimbledon Ladies' Singles, her first grand slam tournament victory at age 17. The following year she became world No. 1, but she underwent surgery on her shoulder in 2008 and her ranking fell.

Nakamura was hired to help recover her form. Sharapova stands at 1.88 meters tall, and often slipped and lost her balance on clay courts, which made the French Open particularly difficult for her. Through repeated training drills designed to lower her center of gravity, she was able to finally win Roland Garros in 2012, and in doing so notched victories at all four grand slams, otherwise known as a career grand slam.

The enduring impression Nakamura has of Sharapova is her drive, even when she was at the pinnacle of her sport, to continually improve. "Even when she'd just won, she'd be talking about what training we were going to do the next day," he said.

Though a pro, there must have been times when she didn't want to train, Nakamura says. But she reportedly wouldn't skip on it, and would attend as scheduled every time, in an atmosphere that didn't tolerate half measures. "She was always thinking about where she could improve. She liked to try new things, even during training."

The team supporting Sharapova was diverse and had a strong sense of unity. Her trainer, Nakamura, is from Japan, her coach was from the Netherlands, her physical therapist was French, her hitting partner was German, and her manager was from the U.S. Even in 2016 when she was banned from professional tennis for a year and three months after breaking doping rules, the team's trust in her remained unshaken, and she continued to work tirelessly with the whole team to return to the game.

Sharapova attracted attention as a great tennis player. She used that presence, Nakamura said, to help improve the standing of female athletes. He said that as a star tennis player she attracted the kind of attention that would get her onto the open practice courts and win her center court billing for matches with large audiences, and that this was connected to fairer treatment between male and female players.

In the autumn of 2018, Nakamura took up a position as the Head of Tennis & Strength Conditioning at IMG Academy in Florida, which cultivated the talents of professionals including Sharapova and Kei Nishikori.

"Once again, I've noticed her greatness, her feeling that she has to keep going without giving in. Perhaps there will be no athlete greater than her. But I want to continue to give back the things I learned with her to the younger generation," he said.

(Japanese original by Hiromi Nagano, City News Department)

 

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Pretty interesting listen. As you can expect, zero acknowledgement from those two that Sharapova had been hampered by injuries since 2014, but Whitaker's "candidness" is a lot more tolerable than Law, who can't hide his dislike. :ROFLMAO:
 

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SHARAPOVA TALKS BUSINESS WITH SHARK TANK'S KEVIN O'LEARY

APR 08, 2020
by Jordaan Sanford

Business mogul Kevin O'Leary—also known as Mr. Wonderful—recently sat down virtually with Maria Sharapova to talk business. The two Shark Tank stars (Sharapova was a guest judge) discussed how to help small businesses during the coronavirus crisis.

The former world No. 1 opened up about her fear of becoming one-dimensional. But she learned quickly through working with big corporations such as Nike and Evian that tennis was not just a sport but also a business.

Sharapova learned the ins and outs of marketing, creative and advertising before realizing she wanted more. The five-time Grand Slam champion didn't just want to stamp her name or show her face, she wanted to be part of the decision making.

"Deal making and the strategy behind deal making became very different, because instead of being a face I had an opportunity to be an investor," Sharapova said. "That's when I really started understanding business."

Sharapova and her father moved to the United States when she was young, with $700 to their names. When contracts started to pour in after she won Wimbledon in 2004, Sharapova jumped at the opportunities to be the face of brands. These endorsements would bring more financial freedom and would eventually allow her to be much more than just a face.

"I don't say this all the time, but you were pretty good on Shark Tank," O'Leary said. "You actually said no to people, most guests don't have the guts or the cahoonas to do that."

Sharapova explained she didn't just walk onto the show. It was an extensive process, which involved sitting down with the show's producers and editors in an interview-like setting. She would not only prove her knowledge of the show, but also the technical aspects of business and investing.

O'Leary and Sharapova answered listener questions, with the first one centered around small businesses and how to support them through the coronavirus crisis.

"We cook a meal or two at home, breakfast and dinner, but lunch we pick up," Sharapova said. "So all the restaurants that are in our community that we've ate at for years with my family and friends."

The two wrapped up the session by answering: "What would motivate you after you're filthy rich?"

For Sharapova, it all stems from passion and loving what she does and trying to see just how far she can take it. O'Leary chimed in to say he retired for three years and visited every beach in the world, but became bored.

"I don't need more money. I just want to be in the game, I just want to compete," he said.

Although Sharapova retired just before the tours were suspended, it doesn't mean she won't be working towards anything. She spends 70 percent of her day focusing on her company Sugarpova and is also breaking ground on a health and wellness program.

 
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