At an age where most would be trying to compete in the juniors category trying to make their way up slowly but surely into the seniors league, she had not just become a pro, but had a Grand Slam victory to her name. The (then) 17-year-old girl had become a star even before she had finished her teens, and is now counted among the best ever to hold a tennis racket. The one who continues to capture many a fan’s heart is none other than Maria Sharapova.
Learning the game
It isn’t easy for someone coming from Russia to excel in a sport, in which, till the 90’s, no player had ever reached the zenith. While Russia was still reeling under the affects of the Chernobyl tragedy in 1986, her parents decided to move to another city while she was yet to be born. The fact that they bid goodbye to their homeland proved decisive in the long run. Sochi, known for its sporting facilities, would be the city where Maria would hone her skills with the racket.
Tennis aficionados will remember Yevgeny Kafelnikov well, the former world number one and the first ever from Russia. It was Yevgeny’s father, Aleksandr, who pushed Maria into tennis, presenting her with her first racket. Yuri Yutkin, a popular Russian coach, took her under his wings and saw how natural Maria was with the tennis racket. But it was not until the legendary Martina Navratilova spotted her at her tennis clinic in Moscow that she found her true ‘calling’. On the legend’s recommendation, the father-daughter Sharapova duo shifted their base to Florida on borrowed money. Maria was barely seven at the time. Yuri, Maria’s father, was forced to wash dishes for money, to fund his daughter’s education till she was eligible for the academy. That sacrifice and effort by her father would see results soon, as she earned her scholarship to a popular tennis academy. That was the beginning of the rise of Maria Sharapova.