Maria Sharapova on her comeback, her love of competition and more
At times, Maria Sharapova had doubts about coming back after shoulder surgery
Sharapova loves the adrenaline rush that being in a tennis match gives her
Her father made several crucial decisions which helped to shape her career
After winning the 2012 French Open, Maria Sharapova met with a small group of writers from various outlets, including Sports Illustrated. Here are some highlights from the interview session:
Question: Was there ever a time when you considered you couldn't carry on or you might have to quit the sport because of your shoulder injury [which required surgery in 2008 and sidelined her for 10 months]?
Maria Sharapova: I had my doubts. I would always ask around who had such problems with their shoulder and who recovered from it, and who had surgery, and who got back to the top. And I didn't get many answers back, which was a little frightening, because you always want to look toward the positives. Of course you speak to the doctors and they're always optimistic and they want to get you back fast. This is a small surgery, and of course you have to do it, or else you won't be able to ever compete, or for my manner, ever serve again without pain. So it was all a process for me, but I never actually said that I'm not going to be back. I just had that certain belief in me.
Q: You've always said that you came back because you love tennis. Can you explain that a little bit? What is it about tennis that you love?
Sharapova: I love competing. There's nothing in the world that gives you that adrenaline feel of just being in the moment of a match. There's nothing that I've done in my life that's given me that experience. It takes a lot to get to that moment, whether it's pressure or nerves or excitement -- it's like a combination of all those things. But that feeling, and getting through it, and winning, and beating your opponent, as an athlete, it's different than other careers. It's a very different feeling. You know, it's not like you're a great actress, where you can be so good but no one goes and watches your movie. Or you can be the greatest model in the world, but if someone doesn't put you on the cover of a magazine, you're never going to be famous. This sport, it's all in your own hands, and that's what I love about it -- that I control my own wins and losses.
Q: When you weren't able to compete when your shoulder was bad, what did you use to fill that void?
Sharapova: I wrote a lot. I was writing a lot in my journal, how I was feeling and what I was going through, and the expectations that the doctors and the physios had. I went through a few different stops. First the doctor does the surgery, and then you have to find the right person to do the rehab. In the beginning, that didn't work out. I went to someone who was a baseball specialist, which we thought was quite similar, but in the end I wasn't getting better. Then I actually went to play doubles in Indian Wells to see how my shoulder would feel in match situations, because something was still not great. I still felt like there was something there. I played the match and I still felt something, and it felt like my rehab wasn't the right one for me.
After Indian Wells, I did another MRI because something wasn't easy. I got a bone bruise, which you get, I think, from overuse. But I wasn't playing -- all I was doing was rehab -- so nobody could understand how I'd gotten a bone bruise. Bone bruises take a long time to heal and this was a pretty big one. So there were just a lot of different stops -- very stop and go, stop and go. Everyone had great expectations. They would say, "In a week or two you're going to be able to play and serve and have no pain," so I would go and serve, and I would just clench my teeth.
Q: There were a lot of people who were willing to write you off. Was proving them wrong something that was actively in your head?
Sharapova: No, not at all. Of course it's reasonable for them to write me off because I was out of the game, I'd just had shoulder surgery. No one saw it coming that I would have surgery -- we kept it pretty quiet. And then, of course, my comeback story wasn't like I got back on the court and I won a Grand Slam. It took a lot of time, it took a lot of bad losses, it took a lot of bad days. It certainly didn't come easy for me.
Q: We have seen some players who have completed a Grand Slam here recently. We've seen Roger Federer. And they always say that the first one is the sweetest, but it sounds like this one feels sweeter for you. Can you talk about this climb and this particular year?
Sharapova: I never thought that something would be sweeter than the first one I won [2004 Wimbledon]. But at the second [2006 U.S. Open], I fell to my knees, because something felt extremely special. Obviously, it's really tough to compare. I think the first one was a feeling of joy [that came from] no expectations, and not really understanding how this came so early. Whereas this one, I felt like I really deserve this one, because I worked so hard and I went through so many tough days to get here. I never put my head down. I was grumpy and I had my tough days and I would yell at people and say, "You're promising one thing, and it's not happening." I certainly had my doubts, but I kept going, and I didn't let anybody tell me otherwise. It wasn't in my interest.
Q: Do you have thoughts about the real source of this drive you have, something that other players don't seem to have like you do? Is it your dad? Is it the immigrant narrative? What do you think this really comes from?
Sharapova: Well, it started with a chance for me to play tennis, and that, which goes without saying, is because of my parents. My parents had a normal life in Russia. They could have easily kept living a normal life, and working, and raising a child in Russia. But, for some reason, they sacrificed. They saw that nobody was a tennis specialist. My parents certainly weren't, although my dad enjoyed it as a hobby. They just believed, for some reason, and made that decision to leave Russia and go to the United States.
I think about it, and I feel sorry for the people that do it again because I don't know how many times that [success] can happen. There are so many roads you can take that will lead you the wrong way, that nobody will hear your name. Their (my parents') determination, their pride, their belief -- I heard endless conversations between my parents when I was going to sleep about how we would survive and how we would continue. All of them [the conversations] were about how to make me better.
My father, of course, takes responsibility for my whole career. But he was extremely smart in those situations because he knew that he wasn't a tennis expert. All he knew was that he liked tennis. He took me to all the different people who could try to make me better, whether it was somebody on the movements, somebody on the serve, somebody on the strokes. He never thought he knew it all. That was the best gift he gave me. He had books and books of educational things that he always tried to learn. One day when we were in Florida I went to his room and he was reading a book and said, "One day we're going to go to California." I was like, "Um, no we're not. I was watching the news the other day and the crime rate there is horrible. I do not want to go to California." He was like, "We're going there." I didn't even know why we were going there, and then two weeks later we were on a plane going to see [coach] Robert Lansdorp.
It's just decisions. Like I said, you can get sidetracked so easily in this life. It's so easy to see something and say, "We're going to do it, and we're going to get there." But it's not so easy.
Q: When you saw the flag, going up there for the anthem, what was your emotion like?
Sharapova: Well, incredible. Of course, everyone knows my story of being born in Russia and moving to the United States at 7. For a few years people would say, "Well, she's living in the United States, but she's Russian." When the flag goes up today and I heard the national anthem, it's like, "I'm so proud to be a Russian, I'm so proud to represent my country." I never for a second thought that it would be otherwise, no matter how many people told me "You're not [Russian], you just have a passport." I couldn't care less. I love where I'm from. I don't live there because of the circumstances, but all my family is there. It's what's inside, it's not what's outside that determines the culture and the feeling.
Q: Would a second Wimbledon be sweeter than a first?
Sharapova: [Laughs] I can start thinking about that in a few days.