Top Russian tennis player and world No. 2 Maria Sharapova is on a golden run having recently won the China Open. The talented young 27-year old has starred in nine Grand Slam finals with a record of 5–4 with her most recent Grand Slam coming at the2014 French Open where she won her second French Open title and fifth Grand Slam title overall. Aviamost interviews the TAG Heuer Brand Ambassador to get to know what sets her apart in a league of her own…
It is said that you got your first tennis racquet when you were four years old. Was it an immediate passion for you?
Tennis was a completely organic and natural love for me ever since I was a little girl. I became completely immersed in playing, and even watching my heroes compete on TV.
Before you entered the Bollitieri Tennis Academy, your father had to work hard to finance your tennis’ lessons, which memories do you keep from this period?
Family sacrifices stay with you for your whole life, and I was cognizant of my parents’ dedication to my future, even as a child. I always tried to mirror that dedication and reflect it back on all of my supporters in every court performance. I was fortunate to having loving and supportive parents, but also a great team around me who opened a lot of doors and made my travel and growth possible.
At the age of 18, you’ve been the first Russian women tennis player in the history to achieve first place in the world ranking. What makes the difference between a future champion and a gifted tennis player?
Like most things in life, I really believe it’s about seeing the ‘big picture.’ Every action, match, and venture plays a part of a bigger life that only you are responsible for building. Gifted players tend to play for the current set, and can do very well. But I believe that talent is a living thing – it has to be nurtured and given the space to grow.
Do you ever think in another life what you could have been? What would have been Maria Sharapova if she wasn’t a tennis champion?
I’m extremely lucky that I’ve earned the opportunity to explore multiple passions. While tennis remains my priority, I am continually inspired by the worlds of fashion and design, and have had the opportunity to do both with brand partners, like Nike. I’m also riveted by the inner workings of the business world. I have been peripherally involved in so many global brands as an Ambassador, but I felt a calling to launch my very own company. I launched my candy collection, Sugarpova, just under 2 years ago and I love the challenges. The success, both in tennis and business didn’t come overnight. It was a lot of work. I am not afraid of working hard to pursue my dreams.
When you step in a tennis court to play a match, your concentration is really impressive, what do you think about just before this very special moment?
For me, it’s very important to center myself before a match – to clear my mind and limit my focus solely to each particular movement. Being able to block out distraction is a talent any athlete must learn, as is greeting an opponent with a prepared strategy.
Is this the case all along the match, that even when you lose an important point, you never feel disheartened?
I am competitive by nature, and there are times where I do get frustrated if I lose a point obviously. But I am a competitor on court – there is no room for disheartenment. It’s all about focusing on the next opportunity to win.
You never give up until the end?
Never. You can’t do that. I’ve battled back from shoulder injuries in my career, and they definitely taught me about perserverance. Also, tennis is a two-way street. Nothing is ever predictable, and there are so many variables that can affect a match that I fight straight through.
When you lose an important match, do you already think about the next competition?
I think first we look back at a retrospective of the last match. Learning from mistakes and understanding what things went wrong – and what things went right – is wholly important information to keep in mind for the next match.
According to you is there any mental difference between a male and a women champion?
Of course I believe that the sexes are equal, but to me, there’s something so compelling about watching strong women claim their victory. Even though we are in the year 2014, there are still unfounded perceptions that women are in varying ways inferior to men. That is obviously not the case – but proving stereotypes wrong by showcasing female endurance and strength makes experiencing winning even sweeter.
Why did you choose Tag Heuer?
My agent says I have an incredible ability to say no! I really select the brands I get involved with very carefully.
I love what the TAG Heuer brand embodies, and especially how they relate to women. TAG watches are my go-to accessory. I can put on a watch and move from the court to a business meeting, to a red carpet – seamlessly. The brand stands for exceptional quality and precision, with unyielding passion, and those are principles that I too share.
No matter how much I am down, I will always keep on fighting, and look for ways to reach my goals. Even though my priority remains tennis, I value the partnerships I have entered. They have opened doors for me such as the world of fashion which I obviously love, but also made me look at the business side of what I do.
You have to travel a lot, is there a personal belonging you always take with you?
I travel constantly, and I definitely have some must-have items to make it easier. I love leather leggings, and wide brimmed hats. An oversized scarf is a must, especially if I’m going on a plane, and a great pair of sunglasses. I also love to bring my dog, Dolce, when I can! Otherwise I always pack jewelry gifted to me by my family, a notebook for business ideas and reminders, and my favorite TAG watch.
What is your favorite place to be?
I’d have to say the beach! My training schedule is pretty much year round, but I try to treat myself to a few beach days after a Grand Slam or a big tournament. It’s so relaxing and a great place to just clear your mind. My main residence is in Florida, but I spend some time in southern California as well when my schedule allows.
What do you do when you’re not training or playing?
Working! Sugarpova is growing by leaps and bounds, and there are constantly new initiatives to work on to offer candy lovers a totally new experience. I also spend a lot of time supporting my brand partners, or shopping and reading for inspiration.
Do you ever go back to Siberia or to Sochi?
I spent a lot of time in Sochi during the 2014 Winter Olympic Games a few months ago. It was surreal to visit my hometown under these circumstances – as a girl I could have never imagined that Sochi would have been on the world’s stage. I was invited to carry the Olympic torch at the Opening Ceremonies, and even spent time commentating for American broadcast networks.
You’re 27 year old, a new champion generation is rising, do you ever think about retiring?
I am happy to say I am still at the top of my game – winning my fifth Grand Slam at the French Open in June proved that. It’s a really interesting time in tennis right now because you have women with varying amounts of experience, but that’s what keeps sports challenging and fresh! I want to continue breaking my own records and excelling in the game I love.
During your career you earned millions of dollars, how do you imagine your future: in 2012 you’ve launched a candy’s brand named “Sugarpova”, any further project?
The focus now is to grow the collection – introducing new flavors and new projects. This year we launched a new flavor called ‘Speedy’ – car-shaped fruity yogurt gummies shaped like Porsche 911 sports cars. We also began working with a major American frozen yogurt chain called Pinkberry, developing mini candy toppings for their frozen treats. We’ve introduced an accessories collection of hats and ties, and now hope to push the brand even further and introduce sleepwear later this year.
2014 is proving to be a good year for me with my training and coaching team by my side. I look forward to continuing to move forward in all aspects of my game- always growing, and learning, and to keep pushing myself and my game to the next level.