People | Game, Set, MARIA

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Game, Set, MARIA
Text by Supriya Nair
Published: Volume 17, Issue 8, August, 2009

In an exclusive Q & A with Verve, tennis icon Maria Sharapova talks about her approach to fitness, passion for her sport, and the elements of her style

Just before the 2006 US Open, sports watchers were treated to a particularly brilliant tennis TV commercial. The denizens of New York City, right from the cleaning ladies at the Waldorf-Astoria and the motorcyclists on the streets, to the ball girls and a breathless audience, start to croon I Feel Pretty from that classic New York musical, West Side Story. A tall, broad-shouldered young woman gets into her tennis frock, gets into gear, and gets into victory mode. It’s the teenaged Maria Sharapova, and as breathtakingly lovely as she is, the expression on her face - part-ironic amusement, part-grim determination - says it all. To be a pretty face in tennis means nothing ; to be a victor is everything. Not incidentally, Sharapova won that particular US Open – and looked fabulous as she did it.

Some years on, that polished excellence has become a Sharapova hallmark. Her focus and power have never been in doubt: what remains to be seen, as she returns to face the rest of the 2009 season after a lengthy injury layoff, is her ability to volley back to the top. Her most recent appearance at a Grand Slam this year ended prematurely, with a fourth-round exit at Wimbledon to Argentina’s Gisela Dulko, but some of her hard-earned veneer of unflappability was well in evidence even after that disappointment. ‘You know, it’s too late now to assess (what I could have done). But (I) just move forward. And, you know, this is not an overnight process.’ She knows that better than most. This is the athlete who once sat down and wrote to her disappointed fans after a defeat : ‘…let me point something out. I didn’t leave my mom at the age of seven for nothing. I didn’t spend six hours a day practising in the Florida sun at the age of nine for nothing...I didn’t sleep in little cots for three years, eating oatmeal out of a packet while playing in the middle of nowhere for nothing. All this has helped me build character and there’s no better asset than being able to stand up for yourself.’

And character, after all, is beauty – it shows not only in every line of her phenomenally-toned body, but also in every line of that half-ironic, half-determined smile. Sharapova isn’t back: she never went away. And Flushing Meadows waits, with bated breath, for an encore.

Excerpts from an interview:

You’ve always been known for the power and speed of your game. Do you feel like your style’s changing as your career progresses?
I think my experience on the court, competing in big matches has made me a much smarter and tougher player over the years. Experience just allows you to relax during the big moments which allows you to play your game. Many people get nervous in those big situations and it does not allow them to play their game.

What’s your fitness regime like?
I am not one of those athletes who enjoys the gym, so I try to incorporate things like yoga, hiking and running on the beach.

Does pro tennis mean being on a punishing diet? What are the sort of things you’d happily smash your diet schedule for?
I do not see my diet as punishing at all, it is simply healthy and balanced. But it is true I tend to steal food from my coach’s plate, especially given that he eats a lot of burgers.

How hard is it getting back up to speed after an injury, and what do you do to motivate yourself?
While I have been out injured the past few months, it has made me realise how much I missed competing. This huge desire to be back on the court competing at the highest level has just motivated me to work extra hard on my shoulder rehab, in the gym and on the tennis court. I have never been more hungry to compete.

What do you to de-stress after a long day?
I do what every girl my age does I guess: I read a good book, listen to music, read a fashion magazine, have dinner with my friends and my family.

What’s your personal favourite of all the memorable outfits you’ve worn on the circuit?
I have a special memory of my evening Nike dress I wore for the final of the US Open in 2006. It was a little black dress I had designed with Nike and that was kept secret until I got to the court that night, and I won in it.

What’s an essential piece of fitness advice you’d give to aspiring tennis players?
My only piece of advice is not really about fitness: love what you do, have a dream and work hard to reach it.

What’s next on the cards for you, in terms of sport or life?
Obviously, tennis, tennis, and tennis. I am completely focused on my game. On the sponsor front, TAG Heuer will be launching my co-designed line of fashion sunglasses in September, so be on the look out!

You are a TAG Heuer ambassador. If you could pick only two watches, one for the day, one for the evening, which watches would you pick ?
For the day, I would pick a TAG Heuer Carrera Lady. This watch is a beautiful classic and goes with any style, from casual to sophisticated. For the night, I would go for my TAG Heuer Formula 1 Lady Diamonds in black. I love the sparkle of it, the elegance and the youth.

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