Maria Sharapova: Tsarina of Russian tennis
Brought up in Sochi and the winner of a career grand slam, Maria Sharapova won Olympic silver at London 2012 and is now dreaming of gold at Rio 2016.
Where it all began
Maria Sharapova spent a significant part of her childhood in Sochi, and made a special journey home in the build-up to the 2014 Olympic Winter Games. An official ambassador for the Games, she returned to the courts where she first took up the sport that made her famous, signing autographs and posing for photos with local youngsters.
“I spent so many years of my childhood here,” she said. “My tennis memories come back all the way to this court, to this wall, and that’s why it’s such a special occasion to be back here, to be part of the Winter Olympics and to be coming back to my real roots. When I went to the USA nobody had heard of Sochi. I hope that when I go back I won’t need to explain where my hometown is anymore.”
Two days later, a beaming Sharapova had the honour of carrying the torch into the Fisht Olympic Stadium at a spectacular Opening Ceremony.
A champion at 17
Showing promise at a very early age, the ambidextrous Sharapova was admitted to the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Miami when she was eight and played left-handed until she was 11. Developing a powerful forehand and backhand, she was a mere 14-year-old when she turned pro.
The first major achievement of her career came three years later at Wimbledon in 2004, where she beat the then two-time champion Serena Williams in straight sets to become the first Russian to lift a grand slam title and one of the tournament’s youngest ever winners.
A career grand slam
Her consistency on the circuit brought her the world No1 slot in August 2005. The following year she won her second grand slam crown at the US Open and added the Australian Open title in 2008 before suffering a shoulder injury that caused her to miss Beijing 2008.
Her form fluctuated on account of lingering injury problems, though she was back in the world top ten by 2011 and completed a career grand slam in 2012, beating Italy’s Sara Errani 6-3, 6-2 to win the French Open and join the select band of players to have achieved the feat.
A national honour
At London 2012, Sharapova became the first female athlete to bear the Russian flag at an Olympic opening ceremony and went on to fulfil a childhood dream by competing at the Games.
After beating Germany’s Sabine Lisicki, Belgium’s Kim Clijsters and Viktoria Azarenka of Belarus to reach the final, she suffered an emphatic straight-sets defeat at the hands of Serena Williams.
“I prepared as well as I could and I’m happy with the silver medal. You get days like this. Serena played a fantastic game, and I hope we face each other again in the future,” she commented, before plucking up a smile as she climbed on to the podium.
The Russian injured her shoulder again in 2013 but returned in style a year later, outlasting Romania’s Simona Halep in a tough three-set battle to win the French Open for a second time.
The greatest Russian women’s tennis player in history, the five-time grand slam winner has not given up hope of claiming Olympic gold one day.
“As a Grand Slam tournament winner, you do not spend all the hours on the training ground if you do not have other great triumphs in mind,” she said, setting out her future goals. “The gold medal in Rio would be something special.”