Vanity Fair: Stick Shift
By Brett Berk
Is there anything Maria Sharapova can’t do? In addition to being the world’s highest-paid female athlete and its No. 3-ranked female tennis player, Maria is also an entrepreneur, a designer, a fashion plate, the head of a humanitarian foundation, a U.N. Goodwill Ambassador, and the endorsing face of a wide variety of products from shoes to tablets. Add to that list: car-lover and Porsche fan.
A shoulder injury precluded Maria’s participation in the U.S. Open-which is currently running at some location in Queens that induces major traffic snarls out by La Guardia. But that didn’t stop her from meeting up with us at her Manhattan hotel for a drink (of water) and a wide-ranging conversation about the challenges of being a polymath, the problem with allowing your boyfriend to drive your 911, and the difficulties of creating a stiletto heel out of gummy candy. Highlights of our conversation are below.
Brett Berk: Tell me a bit about your candy company, Sugarpova. Do you have a sweet tooth, or is this purely a business move?
Maria Sharapova: I’ve always had a sweet tooth, as you mentioned, and as a young girl, I saw all the variety of gummy candy, which I had never seen in my home country, in Russia. I said: ‘Wow. This is quite brilliant.’ With the name, I thought it would be a great business venture because it’s something that’s not typical, it’s different, it’s unexpected, and yet it’s fun. I really wanted to have fun with the business. So many of the things I do in my life are serious, so when it came to something like candy, I really wanted to explore it and have fun. It took quite a long time to develop.
It doesn’t seem like it would be an easy thing. Any particular challenges?
We wanted to create a certain heel shape, but they couldn’t make the heels thin enough, because it didn’t work well with the machine. I was like, “We have to go with a wedge?” That was tough. But we did make the heel not a wedge. It was a heel, but it wasn’t as thin as I would have liked.
Any candy cars in the works?
That’s a great idea. We can discuss that business plan later.
You’re one of the world’s top tennis players. Is the game still central, or has the other work you do become more of a focus?
I think it’s about prioritizing. I realize what has brought me the things that I have in my career is the work that I’ve put in on the court. But there’s a lot more to life than tennis, than hitting a tennis ball. I like to do things-I’m not someone who likes to stay still. My mind is always working. I’m thinking creatively-that’s part of the Sugarpova business. It’s about enjoying the things that you do, not thinking about it as a chore.
What about finding room for your foundation, and your humanitarian work?
That’s a little bit more personal. It’s with Chernobyl-affected areas. I don’t know if you know the story-my parents moved from Belarus when Chernobyl hit. That’s why I was born in Russia; otherwise I would have been born in Belarus, in 1987, when it all happened. I was very fortunate to be raised in a safe town, where the air and water weren’t polluted. But many were not as fortunate as my family and I were.
In the beginning, I was raising awareness that despite the catastrophe happening so long ago, people are being affected by it on a daily basis, to this day. But little by little it became helping different areas: cleaning up a certain city, or helping financially, bringing a better environment, hospital-wise, to a town. Sometimes, it’s sports facilities. In those towns, sometimes, there’s not a lot of hope or positivity, and I really believe that when you have that good energy around you, it helps so much, even in your health.
At last year’s Porsche Tennis Grand Prix, in Stuttgart, you took home a brand new Porsche 911 S Cabriolet as part of your winnings. Do you still have the car?
I still have it, and I drive it-it’s my regular daily driver. It’s in California-I have a place there and a place in Florida, and the car fits better in California. California has a little bit of a . . . younger age group.
How does the 911 compare to the first car you owned?
My family had a Honda Accord; it was the first one they purchased. I remember going in the back seat with friends and showing them that there’s an automated window: Look, it goes up and down! You don’t have to roll it! That’s something I had never seen before. In Russia, it was all hand-cranking. I was so excited about those buttons.
Is there an aspect of yourself that you see reflected in Porsche’s cars?
Absolutely. I had driven S.U.V.’s for a while, and I realized that while I’m young, I want a sportier, lower car, and to have fun with it. Porsche is all about that. It’s about being a little bit on your wild side, being a woman and being powerful. It’s a good feeling.
Though you’ve lived in the U.S. since age seven, you are originally from Russia. Is there any Russian vehicle you have a fondness for?
None at all. There’s not one that I can think of.
Despite not being mandatory, you and other top female players often wear skirts in competition, despite practicing in shorts. Is this for functional or aesthetic reasons?
I don’t know. I grew up wearing them. At practice, when I was younger, I would go in skirts and dresses. It feels like, it’s part of tennis. When I think of tennis, I think of long white dresses or skirts up to the knee, holding wooden racquets on a grass field. It feels like a part of history, and makes it a bit more feminine as well.
Why is that important?
Because I think our sport is very tough, aggressive and physical, and women have a feminine side, so it’s nice to be able to show that through pretty outfits.
Do you ever drive hard to get your aggression out?
I don’t. I’m a good driver, or I like to think I am. When a male is in the car, they tend not to think so, so that’s difficult.
Do you let anyone drive your 911?
I’m pretty picky. My boyfriend has, but not very often. He likes it too much, that’s the problem. You let them drive your car, then you can’t find your own keys.
We end all of our Stars and Cars interviews by asking, What’s the most embarrassing thing that’s ever happened to you in a car.
Well, I’ve only gotten one ticket, for crossing a double-yellow line. It was evening, and I was going to a coffee shop. It was in a small town, and everyone recognized me.
If that’s the most embarrassing thing that’s ever happened to you, you’re doing pretty well.