Maria Sharapova on the Loves of Her (Traveling) Life
Preparing to defend her French Open title, the tennis champ holds forth on her favorite hotels, great carry-ons and the joys of getting lost in Tokyo
By CHRISTIAN L. WRIGHT
WHEN SHE ARRIVED IN PARIS this week as the defending champion at the French Open, Maria Sharapova was fresh off her win at the Italian Open in Rome and had a shiny new trophy and a bag full of cash to show for it. Both tournaments are played on red clay, which she has said made her feel like “a cow on ice.” But she’s hardly bovine. A lean 6-foot-2, with an imperial persona on the court and a sunny California élan off it, Ms. Sharapova, 28, is currently No. 2 in the world, a ranking she earned in part with her powerful two-handed backhand accompanied by a shriek that gives voice to her competitiveness. Other Sharapova trademarks include turning her back until she’s ready to receive, crushing her opponents’ second serves and annihilating anything that comes across the net soft and high. And she keeps her chin up even when she’s match point down.
Born in Russia, Ms. Sharapova came to the U.S. when she was 7 and won her first Wimbledon title at 17. Subsequently falling from the top tier, she had to climb back up the rankings ladder—not to mention reinvent her serve after shoulder surgery that could have ended her career. Today, Ms. Sharapova is the world’s highest-paid female athlete (Nike signed her to a reported $70 million endorsement deal) and has become that most coveted of modern things—a global brand.
Lately, she’s been expanding her line of candy, Sugarpova, an especially big hit in Japan where, she said, “they love color and pattern and a unique take on things.” But she hasn’t hung up her HEAD Graphene XT Instinct MP racquet just yet. In Paris, she’s eyeing a third French Open title and looking forward to being in the same time zone as her boyfriend, Grigor Dimitrov, the young Bulgarian whom some consider male tennis’s next big thing. Ms. Sharapova said she loves travel, but her greatest indulgence—apart from flying to matches in a private jet—is being in her pajamas at home with her fuzzy Pomeranian, Dolce. Ms. Sharapova owns homes in Florida and California.
Most people don’t know that I’m: awkward. I stumble on things. Away from the courts I’m always bumping into things, like Bambi. Maybe I’m focused too far ahead.
Between practices, I like to: focus on my [candy] business. I have a lot of time off and love to brainstorm with my team and focus on how to build the Sugarpova brand. It takes my mind off the daily grind of my sport.
My favorite restaurant is: Mari Vanna. They have them in London and New York, and I think they just opened one in L.A. I like the borscht and the cherry-filled dumplings.
I can’t stand the taste of: vodka. In fact, I know many Russians who don’t like it. I might drink it mixed with something, but never straight.
The best thing about traveling: is that it takes me out of my comfort zone. I remember in Tokyo, I wasn’t sure where I was going and there was a language barrier, so I couldn’t ask directions. There weren’t many street signs, and even when there were, I couldn’t read them. But it was an adventure. I like getting lost.
One of my greatest luxuries is: flying privately on NetJets. It really helps me get to or from a tournament quickly when I have to. It’s one of the best investments of my career.
I never fly without: a cashmere scarf by Faliero Sarti that’s big enough to use as a blanket. I’m usually cold, especially on airplanes. I also always take Bose noise-cancelling headphones and Supergoop SPF hand cream because I just love the texture of it. I use it all the time. I like it so much that I’m an investor in the brand.
I like to collect: modern art. I find local galleries when I travel. One of my big splurges was a lithograph by Picasso that I bought in London. I also like Chris Gwaltney, who is a friend. And I like Ed Moses, too.
I have no patience for: clutter. I like to keep things minimal. My home is quite minimal, modern and warm. I’m not a souvenir person. You won’t find me bringing back any little Eiffel Towers.
When I’m traveling, I love to: take photos. I have a whole blog and I got into Instagram. It became a creative outlet for me. I shoot a lot with my Leica C and my BlackBerry. I’m a BlackBerry person. It’s direct and secure and the keyboard is better than anything else out there.
My last vacation was in: the Philippines, at the Amanpulo resort, which is on an island in the Sulu Sea. When I have time to travel for pleasure, I want to go some place I’ve never been. I’m a big fan of Aman resorts, and I’d never been to their property in the Philippines.
I would rather be: at the ocean than in the mountains or the desert. I love being in nature and in a warm climate.
My idea of a perfect trip is: hitting the beach, doing yoga at sunrise, drinking coconut water—stuff like that. I know that my vacation is a success when I get so bored that I look forward to going back to work.
I dream of returning to: the Hotel Il San Pietro in Positano. It’s been many years since I’ve stayed there, but I think of it all the time. It’s a magical place and has one of the best views I’ve ever seen. I have to get back there.
I always travel with: a suitcase made by Nike that I first got 15 years ago. They don’t manufacture it for the public any more. They just make it for me.
My preferred carry-on is: a black leather bag with thick soft straps made by a German company called Closed. I bought it at the Heist boutique in Venice, Calif., and use it all the time.
My favorite traveling companion is: my dog. Grigor and I both love traveling with him. But I don’t take [the dog] out of the country with me. I wouldn’t want to subject him to my schedule.