This is a pretty long interview but a very interesting one.MARIA FULL OF GRACE
A three time Grand Slam Winner and a frequent Miami visitor, tennis superstar Maria Sharapova dominates her peers on the court and knocks the paparazzi dead off it.www.oceandrive.com
This is the moment of Maria Sharapova. The Russian beauty just won the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne. Her image is all over billboards and television commercials for companies such as Nike, Canon, Tag Heuer, Prince and Sony Ericsson. She is one of most successful female athletes in the worldóboth financially and competitively. Locally, Sharapova hits Miami for the annual Sony Ericsson Open tennis tournament on Key Biscayne this month (March 26th to April 6th). Expect to see some hard-hitting serves and aces as Maria attempts to win her first title here. Of course, the sexy tennis star is no stranger to Florida. Not only does Sharapova, who is ranked number-five in the world, reside in Sarasota, but she has also been spotted at multiple Miami Heat games and lists China Grill as one of her favorite restaurants.
Although she posed in a bikini for the infamous Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue in 2006 and is a ubiquitous presence on television and in print with her ads for Canon, Sharapova is no Anna Kournikova flash-in-the-pan endorsement princess. She is a serious player, whose talent was first discovered by Martina Navratilova in Moscow when she was only six. This recognition prompted Mariaís father, Yuri, to relocate from Russia to Bradenton, Florida, so that he could enroll his daughter in the prestigious Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy (Mariaís mom joined the family stateside two years later). The sacrifice paid off when Sharapova turned pro in April 2001. Although she has yet to reach her 21st birthday (sheíll hit that milestone next month), Maria has already racked up an impressive collection of wins (including Grand Slams titles at the Australian Open, U.S. Open and Wimbledon). More significantly, she has set up her own foundation to assist disabled children and designs most of her on-court ensembles (in conjunction with Nike). In between tournaments spanning the globe (she had just returned from Israel), Sharapova spoke with Ocean Drive about what the future holds, both professionally and personally.OCEAN DRIVE: What are you most looking forward to at the Sony Ericsson Open tennis tournament this month?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Iíve always loved this event because itís a really fun crowd. There are a variety of fans. It has a Latino feeling. Itís a mixed crowd, which you donít see very often. Miami is more of an entertainment town than a sports town and everyone is really excited when the event comes here. All of the players look forward to it, too. Aside from the Grand Slams, itís one of the biggest tournaments for us. When you are playing how conscious are you of the crowd?
I try to block everyone outóeven if they are cheering with me. When I get on the court, my number-one priority is to focus on what I have to do to win. For my entire career, I have tried to block out anything thatís going on around me. But itís important to have support on your side. It helps you when you are down. Your fans lift you up. How hot does it get playing here?
It does get hot. But after the Australian Open, itís not that hot. I was raised in Florida and I still live here, so Iím pretty used to the heat. Growing up, I practiced in the heat. Itís not a surprise anymore. You have been to the finals of the Sony Ericsson but never won. Is this your year?
I hope so. You always want to do better than previous years. Obviously, itís a tournament I have not won before. Itís one that I want to add on to my list.Congratulations on winning the Australian Open. What was that like?
Throughout the two weeks, I had different competition. I felt like I was playing better as the competition was getting tougher. As an athlete, your goal is to raise your level of play. I was happy that I was able to do that. What was the actual moment like when you won?
It was great. I had some very good wins during the week but after each one, I still knew the tournament wasnít over. After the final point, it takes you a while to figure out that it actually is over. You have won Wimbledon, the U.S. Open and now the Australian. Are you gearing up for the French Open in order to win all four Grand Slam titles?
I am. I have a lot of respect for the French Open. It will be the toughest Grand Slam for me to win. Itís physically challenging to play on clay, especially against clay-court players. There are long rallies. Iím physically stronger now than I was a few years ago, and my results are getting better and better. How often are you traveling, and what is it like being on the road so much?
We have tournaments 11 months of the year. Our off-season is very short. Itís a month in December. When I travel, itís tough. I can be on the road for seven to eight weeks at times. Itís challenging. You have to pack well.Are you an expert packer?
By this time, I am. I travel with one bag for my sport clothes and another bag for my off-court clothes and shoes. Thatís usually the bigger bag. Do you get to sightsee on these trips? Do you go to museums?
I try to. When you are winning, you are there for two weeks straight. And the tournament keeps going and your focus is on winning. When you donít sightsee, itís a good thing because you know you are doing well in the tournament. For example, Iíve been to the Louvre in Paris, but I donít have the time to see every gallery and museum. Is the tour a lonely place or are the girls friendly?
Itís an individual sport, so you may be playing against whomever you are friends with. They are going to be on the other side of the net. Itís difficult to have best friends on tour. But so many Russian girls are on the top, it seems like we play against each other every week. How do you feel about the Russian dominance of womenís tennis?
It has been going on for a while. Itís great to see. The coolest part of it is that we all developed our talent in different parts of the world. Some stayed in Russia, some trained in Spain, and some went to the States. Itís not like we went to the same school, did the same drills and ate the same food. And we all managed to get to the top with different paths. You play for Russia in the Fed Cup, but you live in the United States. Where do your loyalties lie?
Iím always going to be Russian. Thatís where my family lives. I moved here because of my career. My coach lives here. You get accustomed to the culture. You meet new friends. But my blood will always be Russian. Thatís where I was born. So, even though I live in the States, I am very close to my home country. I eat Russian food all the time.What is some of your favorite Russian comfort food?
I love borscht, the traditional soup made with beets. We have these dumplings that my grandma makes that are really good. And blintzes, which are crepes in English. Where do you live?
My main home is in Sarasota, Florida. I bought a house in Manhattan Beach, California, a few years ago. Itís my vacation house. How often are you in Miami?
Quite often. I have friends in Miami and I do some of my shoots here. Itís definitely a place I look forward to visiting.
When you came to America in 1995 with your father, you arrived in Miami. Do you have a soft spot in your heart for the city?
I do. Itís the first place where we landed when we came from Russia. There are a lot of memories.Which players do you admire?
Itís hard to admire other players because you have to go out there and play against them. You hope that you beat them. Iíve never been a person who had heroes or people to look up to. Iíve never thought that anyone was perfect, including myself. Everybody has flaws. I appreciate peopleís talent and ability. I try to pick up on the good things they do. But I never wanted to play the same way someone played or be like someone else. Those Canon ads are adorable. Are you a good photographer?
Iím the person who always has my camera out when no one else does. I love taking pictures. I love memories. Sometimes when I want to see pictures of when I was young and there arenít many of them, Iím like, darn it, we didnít take any pictures. Now I donít want that to happen. What is your biggest indulgence?
Iím really into modern art. I hope I can buy an Ed Moses this year. That is my latest obsession.Who are your favorite designers?
Chanel, Vera Wang and Tom Ford. I love fashion. I would love to incorporate my ideas into fashionóafter tennis, of course.You wear some pretty splashy outfits on the court. How involved are you in the design of these clothes?
I work with the Nike designers constantly on all the things I wear. I have a lot of input on design and colors. Itís a fun process. When I travel around the world, I am inspired by the way people dress. I incorporate that into what I wear. What was it like doing the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue?
It was fun. Itís not every day that I take pictures in a bikini. Are you a party girl? Do you like to go out?
No. I donít like to go out at all. I prefer staying home and watching movies. I travel so much that when I get home I just want to be home. I need peace and quiet in my life. When you are on the road, everything is just go, go, go. Is it hard for you to date with your schedule?
Itís more difficult versus living in one place. Any relationship that I have is long-distance because of the amount of travel. That makes it tough.Are you dating anyone?
I donít talk about that.What type of music do you listen to? Who are your favorite artists?
Dave Matthews, David Gray and Amy Winehouse. I can listen to hip-hop and then I can easily go into something slower like Counting Crows. You are a self-proclaimed SportsCenter junkie.
I spend so much time with guys when I travel and all they talk about is sports. Watching SportsCenter has become a habit. Why are people so fascinated by your grunting on the court?
I donít know. Itís laughable. What causes do you support?
I work with the United Nations Development Programme on efforts at Chernobyl. That has been a big part of my life. My mom was pregnant in Belarus during Chernobyl and thatís why we moved to Russia. I am working with the UNDP on many projects. Iím actually going to Belarus this year to see some of the hospitals and computer centers they have built. These are really exciting projects, which I am spending a lot of time on. Tell me about your foundation.
I raise money for kids with disabilities and try to help them achieve their goals.How long will you play tennis?
Until the day I have no interest in going to the practice court. Or when I donít feel like getting better. I will be playing for the next five years. And what about life after tennis?
I donít see myself coaching. One of my goals is to open a small tennis academy back in Russia for young kids. They need a good indoor center. One of the reasons I left Russia is that they donít have too many good indoor centers, and the ones they had were pretty expensive. They were more for the rich than young kids growing up.