It is easy to understand why Maria Sharapova continues to be one of the most popular figures in the tennis world — she’s tall, beautiful, confident, intelligent, a fashion model and still one of the top players on the women’s tour.
Though just 27 years old, Sharapova seems to have been on the world stage for decades, yet she was only 17 when she won Wimbledon in 2004 and just 7 years old when she arrived in the United States from Russia 10 years earlier.
“That’s when I realized that I was in this country and in this new place to develop a career,” she said in a recent Bal Harbour press conference in the luxurious St. Regis Hotel. It was organized by Porsche Cars North America.
“Little by little, I started playing in tournaments and then I started winning smaller junior tournaments. I started to realize that I love tennis and I loved competing.”
Sharapova has won 29 WTA singles titles, including the Australian Open and the U.S. Open. In 2011, she was named one of the “30 Legends of Women’s Tennis: Past, Present and Future” by Time magazine and in 2012 was named one of the “100 Greatest of All Time” by the Tennis Channel. She also is a global ambassador for Porsche.
“I travel around the world and I’m lucky enough to get Porsche cars wherever I am,” she said. “I actually drive a 911 Turbo and whenever I get into the car all of my memories go back to the tournament I won in Stuttgart, which was quite special because I got to drive the car off of the ramp and off of the court in front of thousands of people. So the car always gives me that really nice memory.”
The Sony Open is also one of her favorite tournaments to play and Miami is a special place for her.
“The tournament itself is just a great experience and even the drive out to Key Biscayne is beautiful,” she said. “I’ve played in this tournament many, many times and I have many good experiences and good memories. I’ve been to the finals the last few years, so it’s a special place since I’ve spent so many years in Florida.
“It’s always nice when you have some familiarity with that center court and you expect the fans to be behind you. And there’s always that Latin flavor out on that court; you can really feel the energy and I always look forward to playing out there.”
Sharapova makes her permanent home on the Florida west coast.
“I have a home in Sarasota and I spend a lot of time there,” she said. “But I do come to Miami a lot. It actually was the first place I came to as a young girl when I first came to the United States. Usually, when I come to Miami, it’s all about tennis for me; I concentrate on my job and my work, but I love trying different food.
“There’s a lot of great tapas places around Miami, and great Italian cuisine as well. I like to try new things and every year it seems like the city is building and growing.”
Sharapova was sidelined in 2008 by a recurring shoulder injury that ultimately required surgery. However, she returned to the courts in 2009 and to the Top 10 rankings in 2011, winning her fourth Grand Slam title at the 2012 French Open. Olympic silver medal in the 2012 Olympics in London, but she said she is still recovering from the shoulder injury.
“It took some time,” she said. “Obviously, now I am building the strength during matches. Bringing stamina to the shoulder while I’m playing my matches is a big key for me right now, but I think in a little bit of time it will get better.”
Sharapova added that she has no intentions of hanging up her racquet and calling it a career.
“I still have many more years on the court left if my body allows me to,” she said. “I can’t wait for the next Olympics and to be in Brazil. I think that would be an incredible second experience for me. London was the first-ever Olympics that I participated in, but I would love to come home with a gold medal — that’s a dream of mine.”
Does she think she can be the No. 1 player in the world again?
“Well, I would love to,” she said. “That’s what I work for.”