Forbes: Maria Sharapova: How This Immigrant Became A Global Tennis Star
I spoke to Maria Sharapova, tennis champion and author of Unstoppable: My Life So Far, about her obstacles as an immigrant trying to break into the tennis world, her biggest childhood influences, her morning habits, and her best pieces of career advice.
Born in Nyagan, Russia, Sharapova moved to the United States when she was six years old. At seventeen, Sharapova beat Serena Williams to win Wimbledon. She reached the number-one world ranking at eighteen, and has held that ranking a number of times since. To date, she has won five Grand Slams. Sharapova expanded her presence further in the sporting universe as she became an Olympic correspondent for NBC’s coverage of the 2014 Olympic Games and during the Summer 2012 Olympic Games in London, she was awarded the Silver Medal for Women’s Singles Tennis. She is the first Russian to win the Australian Open and the only Russian to win multiple Grand Slams.
Dan Schawbel: What were some of your obstacles as a young immigrant trying to break into the tennis world?
Maria Sharapova: As a six year old that just landed in America with her father, not being able to communicate in any language was difficult. And the English words I learned before I arrived were from children’s books. The words cat and balloon didn’t get me very far.
I felt like an outcast from the very beginning because I looked odd compared to the other children. I was very petite and skinny. My clothes were too big, my rackets grip was chopped down because an adult racket was too big for me. My shoes weren’t exactly made for playing tennis either. So immediately I was trying to find ways to fit in and in my mind that was by playing good tennis.
Schawbel: Who were your biggest childhood influences and what did you learn from them that prepared you for the future?
Sharapova: I didn’t grow up watching much television. And not much tennis either. So I was consistently influenced by my parents and my coaches since those were the people I was consistently surrounded by. And most challenged by my peers that I was facing as a young girl which ultimately I believe influenced me as well to rise up. But I did dive into children’s books and had a vivid imagination that I would one day have the life of Pippi Longstocking.
Schawbel: Can you tell us some of your morning habits that prepare you for your matches?
Sharapova: My morning habits on match days are very consistent to what my morning habits would be on training days. I like to train as if I’m competing so the competition days seem like I have done it over and over. Keeping a consistent routine is really important in my opinion. Maintaining a nutrition and hydration plan, warming up your body before every training or match, recovery. All those elements are equally important.
Schawbel: Talk about a career defining game that you had, how you felt about it and what you learned in the process.
Sharapova: What I like about tennis is that it consistently brings you back to reality. What one day seemed like a defining moment, the day after might seem like you have to do it just as well and better to redefine it. A day that seemed impossible to get by, later turns out to be the best lesson.
Schawbel: What are your top three pieces of career advice?
1. Put yourself out there. Surround yourself with people you don’t know well, and get to know them better. It develops a skill of asking the questions, getting out of your comfort zone and being introduced to others you might have never come across.
2. Trust your instinct. It might not always be the right decision since there are never any guarantees but making decisions based on your gut feeling doesn’t allow you to dwell on regrets.
3. Hand write a thank you card. In our busy world, taking the time to write out a personal note goes a long way.