Maria 'ice queen' Sharapova turns humorist to tell her incredible rags-to-riches story

Back in 2016, when Maria Sharapova stepped out in front of the media and announced she had tested positive for a banned substance, I felt personally cheated as I had watched her meteoric rise to fame since her maiden Grand Slam victory at Wimbledon in 2004, betraying my loyalty for the likes of Lindsay Davenport and Kim Clijsters. I daresay that the entire world, including the International Tennis Federation, felt the same, and even set out to make an example out of her. The rest of the story of her four-year-turned-two-year-turned-15-month ban played out in the media and she came back triumphant to win her first post-ban WTF title in Shanghai on October 15.

  • Published 30.10.17
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After winning the French Open 2014

Back in 2016, when Maria Sharapova stepped out in front of the media and announced she had tested positive for a banned substance, I felt personally cheated as I had watched her meteoric rise to fame since her maiden Grand Slam victory at Wimbledon in 2004, betraying my loyalty for the likes of Lindsay Davenport and Kim Clijsters. I daresay that the entire world, including the International Tennis Federation, felt the same, and even set out to make an example out of her. The rest of the story of her four-year-turned-two-year-turned-15-month ban played out in the media and she came back triumphant to win her first post-ban WTF title in Shanghai on October 15.

Outright disdain from haters aside, even her fans had turned into sceptics. Therefore, when Maria’s much-talked-about biography, Unstoppable: My Life So Far (Penguin Random House, Rs 699), finally arrived, I was, well, sceptical. Yet, as I turned the pages and read her unbelievable rags-to-riches story written in a crisp, no-nonsense manner — much like she is at her press conferences — I believed her story, including her “meldonium mistake”. Also, did you know that the tennis player nicknamed “Ice Queen” by many for her lack of affability, is quite the humorist? Here’s listing 15 other things that I found out about MaSha from her book:  

• Maria was born in Gomel, located close to Chernobyl, and was conceived by her parents shortly after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster of 1986. Unlike most residents of the town, her family did not shift out until after a few years.

• Her parents, Yuri and Yelena, are not very tall. She towers over them at 6’2” — an improbability that MaSha likes to attribute to ‘Chernobyl’. Luckily, it worked to her advantage.

• She picked up her first tennis racket, which actually belonged to her father, as a four-year-old. 

• She was spotted at a tennis clinic in Moscow by 18-time Grand Slam champion Martina Navratilova, who asked Yuri to take Maria to the US if he wanted her to become a tennis player.

• Yuri and Maria arrived in Florida from Russia when she was only six, without any contacts and only $700!

• Maria was asked to leave the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Florida at first as the administration found her father and her story of how they ended up in the US from Russia improbable, and thought that he was a kidnapper!

• As a child, she used to hang from the closet rod for hours trying to command her body into growing tall as she was scared she would end up only as tall as her folks. Little did she know that she would grow up to be a strapping six-footer.

• She practised in Anna Kournikova’s hand-me-downs for years while training with Nick Bollettieri; she couldn’t escape the comparisons between the two, which she detested, even at the young age of seven.

• Before beating Serena Williams in the 2004 Wimbledon final at just 17, she stepped on a lump of fox poop that had to be washed off her shoes. According to the staff at Wimbledon, stepping on fox poop was rare and considered lucky.

• She attributes her “intense” relationship with Serena Williams to the fact that she had walked into the common locker room after beating the (now) 23-time Grand Slam champion at Wimbledon 2004 and had heard her crying.

• In 2011, Serena chose to confide in Maria about her engagement while congratulating Maria on her (short-lived) engagement to Slovenian basketball player Sasha Vujacic in 2010. Serena had claimed that Maria was the only person who knew about it.

With Serena Williams, whom she considers her ‘greatest rival’

• After her meldonium fiasco, Maria held it together for a while but finally broke down when a message about her was inadvertently sent to her by erstwhile coach Michael Joyce.

• She sat up all night discussing how to tell Jimmy Connors that she was firing him as her coach after just one match. Connors getting fired by Maria went on to make headlines across the world anyway, a fact that she had apprehended.

• She has grown up on a steady diet of American sitcoms and Russian literature, and likes cult-favourite Seinfeld.

• Shopping is the therapy of her choice to deal with her losses. [She’s just like us!]

Compiled by Anannya Sarkar
If I went out on a date with MaSha in Calcutta, I would take her to....
Tell t2@abp.in

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