The Interview: Maria Sharapova

Nike, Inc.

What’s your favourite candy from the Sugarpova line?
> My favourite flavour is “Quirky”—it’s a rainbow-coloured strawberry toffee with a creamy marshmallow centre. I’ve definitely “taste-tested” far too many!

That sounds amazing. We heard you considered changing your last name to Sugarpova? Please say that’s true.
> Yes, someone suggested the name change. It would have been hysterical, but in the end a bit too complicated to pursue.

Describe the feeling of winning a Grand Slam tournament and kissing that trophy. It must be incredible.
> I’ve been really fortunate that my five Grand Slam wins have been spread out over the course of 10 years—so each was experienced at a very different point in my career. That means a lot to me because it signifies how I’ve evolved as a player.

After you won Wimbledon at the age of 17, it was Maria Mania. What was that like?
> It was a tremendous victory, but also a very sudden amount of attention and responsibility. I was quite young, and there was a very strong drive to push myself even harder. When you accomplish a win at Wimbledon, the idea of what’s next becomes even more important.

You’re now one of the most popular athletes in the world. Why do you think that is?
> I’m not a bragger, but I can easily attribute it to having truly amazing fans. I’m fortunate to have had a lengthy career, and the fans have stayed loyal. I try to work really hard and be an example for modern women.

Do you think you’re the most recognizable female athlete in the world?
> That’s a tough question. I think it’s impacted largely by who you grew up admiring. Martina Navratilova is such an icon, and largely responsible for recognizing my talent as a little girl.

Can you imagine being a normal person with a nine-to-five job, sitting in a cubicle?
> I don’t think at this point I could ever get used to a cubicle-type job. I went pro at 12 years old, so I’ve never really had that traditional experience. But there are definitely lots of very long international flights and many days where I do spend significant time at my desk working on projects.

What inspires you when you’re designing your Nike clothing?
> I pay attention to what’s happening on the runways during Fashion Week around New York and Europe. But we also try to design pieces that are evocative of the city in which the tournament is being held.

You have a lot of celebrity status off the court. When do you not enjoy that aspect of your success?
> I’m a very private person, and while I’m happy to be included in so many red-carpet moments, I do wish that’s where the paparazzi following would end. They can be really invasive of not only my privacy, but of my friends’ and family’s when we’re out together.

The fans must go crazy when you’re back in Russia. Do you have to wear a hat and glasses and hide?
> My Russian fans are especially excited when I travel back. But for me, remembering where I came from is so important to who I am, so I don’t mind it. When I carried the torch at the Olympic Games in Sochi, my hometown, it was a poignant moment for me. I also did an event with Nike while I was back where I reopened the court where I learned to play tennis as a girl, which is now open to young girls who can discover their own love for the sport.

What are your most vivid memories about life in Russia?
> Family life, mostly. My grandmother’s cooking, learning to play tennis and following all the women’s finals on Saturday on TV.

How would you describe yourself?
> I am admittedly a fierce competitor. But I would also label myself a strategist, whether on court or in the business world. I’m good at noticing trends and creating action plans. I’m highly organized, loyal to friends and family, a fashion appreciator with an eye for design, and a dog lover.

What’s one thing people don’t know about you but should?
> Probably that I have a boisterous sense of humour when I’m around my close friends. I always have a great time laughing hysterically through hair and makeup with my team.

If you had to pick one woman to never have to meet in a Grand Slam final, past or present, who would it be?
> Probably Monica Seles. But I do wish I could go back in time and play against some of the greats—I can’t think of a better learning experience.

This story originally appeared in Sportsnet magazine. Subscribe here.

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