Maria Sharapova is featured in the December issue of M2 Woman New Zealand magazine. She talks about everything from her new line of TAG Heuer sunglasses to her charity work in the Chernobyl region. I thought the sections about her childhood (“I would not change a thing”) and her life as a Russian in America were especially interesting. Here are some excerpts:
It must have been a hard time for you and your family when as a seven-year-old child you moved from Russia to Florida to train at the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy. Did you have in mind then what it was all for, what you were making such sacrifices for?
Moving to the US was not easy for my family. t was really hard for my father and I to be away from my mother for two years. This was the worst part of the move by far but once my mother arrived and we were all together as a family, it did not matter where we were. I think the best part of the move was that it was the right move for me, my family believed in my talents and they brought me to a place that would allow me to reach all my dreams.
Do you feel like you missed out on just being a child?
I honestly would not change a thing about my childhood. Tennis has brought me so many things, has exposed me to so many different cultures and has allowed me to travel the world to meet so many great people. I am a very lucky girl.
Where do parents draw the line between helping and supporting their children and putting too much pressure on them?
I cannot answer for someone else. Speaking simply for myself, my parents were there all the way through to support me and help me make my dream come true. The dream of becoming a tennis champion was mine and not theirs. I am very proud of what my family did for me. I am just so amazed and grateful that my parents had so much confidence in my ability at a young age. They took a risk that many people would never take.
What advice would you have for the rest of us when we need to stay alert and focused in times of pressure?
It is not only about staying alert and focused. If you work really hard, your dreams can come true. I am living proof. I am just like all those kids out there with a big dream. I hope that I am able to inspire them.
You have become a big ambassador for Chernobyl recovery projects. Just how has the region’s recovery come?
I am very proud of all the work I am doing in the Chernobyl region with the UNDP. This is more rewarding than anything else I am doing. I just set up a scholarship fund in the region and I will continue to do as much as I can for the young people of the region. The region is still suffering from what happened over 20 years ago and the main work now is to change people’s perception from victims to survivors, give them the will to change things, to rebuild.
How important is it to you to retain your Russian citizenship?
I am Russian, I have a Russian passport, both my parents are Russian. I play with the Russian Team at the Fed Cup. I speak Russian with my family. Living in the USA is, for me, like for any person from another country living here: you learn, you adapt, you take the things you like and leave others behind.
Do you think you might go back to Russia to live?
I cannot tell at this point. I don’t know what I am doing tomorrow. As long as I am happy and healthy, and doing what I love, I could live anywhere in the world.
How much of being one of the world’s best athletes comes down to basic natural talent and how much of it is hard work and practice?
I really think that without hard work and practice, a God-given talent is nothing. I do not know if anyone in sport or in any discipline who made it to the top without lots of hard work. This is what you can control. Not the talent itself.
You have been described by many as one of the world’s most beautiful athletes. You’ve even been described as the Marilyn Monroe of sport. Do you think this takes away at all from what you have achieved as a sportswoman?
I never worried much about my physical appearance, I had no control over this. I think once I won Wimbledon at age 17, many people started to notice my tennis and I did get some attention for my physical appearance. All I can say is that I want to be remembered as a great tennis champion, nothing else.
How do you maintain a healthy worklife balance?
Tennis has always remained my top priority. You can ask any of my sponsors, I will never accept any commitment that could hurt my training or tennis. I have a great ability to say no! Now, we can say that the WTA tour schedule leaves me about 20 free days a year… I simply make the most of those 20 days.
What is the best piece of advice that you have been given?
My parents just always taught me to give my best in whatever I was doing, so I had no regrets. This was in school. tennis or anything that I am doing. I try to apply this to all aspects of my life.
What strikes me is 1. Maria stresses that becoming a tennis star was her idea when most of us assume that Papa Yuri played Svengali. 2. She stresses hard work over talent to a large degree – I’d say it shows in her game style, which is hardly effortless. and 3. That while I doubt she has any desire to live in Russia, she does seem to want to hold onto her citizenship.
I guess we’ll need to wait for her tell-all autobiography to hear all the juicy stuff!
Click here for the full interview on Maria’s website