NYT: Tell Us 5 Things About Your Book: Maria Sharapova on ‘Unstoppable’
Since shocking the tennis world with her win over Serena Williams in the 2004 Wimbledon finals, Maria Sharapova has spent time as the No. 1 player in the world, a glamorous pitchwoman whose endorsement deals run in the tens of millions of dollars and a figure of controversy. Last year, the Russian-American star tested positive for meldonium, a drug that had been recently banned by the International Tennis Federation. She returned to the court earlier this year after serving a 15-month suspension. Sharapova has now also written a memoir, “Unstoppable,” looking back at her life and career. It arrives a few months after she turned 30 — not exactly old age in tennis but getting there. In the book, Sharapova writes about Serena Williams, who turns 36 this month and continues to dominate the sport: “Serena and I should be friends: we love the same thing, we have the same passion. … But we are not friends — not at all.” Below, in an email interview, Sharapova talks about her unlikely beginnings, how her book transformed into a rallying cry for overachievers, the way art and fashion inspire her and more.
When did you first get the idea to write this book?
From the moment I won Wimbledon, at age 17, my career has been documented. But it was as if someone just put me inside a television screen and handed me the Wimbledon plate. I seemed to have come out of nowhere. When the questions started pouring in about how I got there, when I began telling the story of what brought me to that moment of victory, no one believed it. Your mother was pregnant with you when the Chernobyl reactor blew up, only 30 kilometers away? You were spotted by Martina Navratilova at age 6? Your father convinced a U.S. immigration officer to give him a visa to bring his 6½-year-old daughter to the United States to become a tennis player? I would tell journalists these stories, but no one really believed them, because it was such a crazy tale. So I decided to write about it.
What’s the most surprising thing you learned while writing it?
I think, first of all, I was really struck and moved by the tough decisions and the setbacks my father, Yuri, had to face in our early years here. I interviewed him extensively for this book, because I was so little when we came here. I hadn’t really thought about how tough it had been for him — to leave his home, my mother (who couldn’t get a visa for years), to land in the middle of the night in Florida with no English at all. We came here with only $700, and he lost that almost immediately. We moved through a series of Florida tennis factories before we were secure. But my father is a believer in getting through. He took endless odd jobs; he did everything he could to make my career happen. I interviewed a lot of my coaches, too, for the book. That was so interesting to me. On the court, it is just you facing your opponent. But the truth is, you are always part of a team.
I also was surprised by how comfortable I became, writing this book, with honesty and vulnerability. I’ve faced my career and my job with laser tunnel vision, my guard up. But in these pages is the young girl who had to overcome obstacles over and over again.
In what way is the book you wrote different from the book you set out to write?
As I worked on it, and when I read it now, the book became less about my life and more about inspiring others who have a dream of being the best. I was never the strongest, the fastest or the smartest among other kids. But I’ve always loved to hit. For me, it’s the one thing that can fix any problem. I had a coach once who said, “Hit until you win.” Knock me down? I get back up. Again and again, my father taught me to do that. Is it being competitive? Russian? Disciplined? Maybe all three.
Who is a creative person (not a writer) who has influenced you and your work?
One of my favorite artists is a Japanese woman named Yayoi Kusama. I am really inspired by individuals who consistently do out-of-the-box work; work that makes you wonder, think, question. Things that don’t necessarily have an explanation.
I also enjoy following Sarah Burton’s career as creative director of Alexander McQueen. She took on an incredible challenge and delivers, collection after collection. And I like her approach: she stays out of the limelight, but behind the scenes her creativity is as newsworthy as ever.
Persuade someone to read “Unstoppable” in 50 words or less.
This is not a book about tennis, but about a little girl with a big dream: to become a tennis champion. It’s about what it takes to achieve that. Courage. Discipline. The drive to overcome setbacks. Because there will be plenty of them. You have to believe you’re unstoppable.