Saturday 17 March 2018

Glamorous Sharapova enjoying the simple life

Maria Sharapova acknowledges the Wimbledon crowd after her victory
Maria Sharapova acknowledges the Wimbledon crowd after her victory

Simon Briggs

What does Maria Sharapova most enjoy about Wimbledon? The answer might surprise you.

"You go out with no introductions," Sharapova said after her slick 6-2, 6-2 dismissal of British hopeful Johanna Konta. "You have that bit of a quiet moment, the five minutes of warming up without anything. And then you just play tennis. That's what it all comes down to at Wimbledon."

This is different from other events, where the players' entrance is followed not by a pregnant pause, but by hyperbolic announcements running through the contents of their trophy cabinets.

You might imagine that Sharapova - one of six women to have completed the career grand slam in the Open era - would enjoy the roll of honour. And she admits that she does also get a kick out of the brash and noisy style of the US Open - all fireworks, dance-beats and hamburger smells drifting across the court.

Wimbledon remains her favourite event, though, because she is a purist, and a woman who responds to simplicity.


This might seem like a paradox, when we are talking about the glamourpuss who drives Porsches, wears L'Oreal, and spends her occasional days off promoting an expensive brand of sugary sweets.

Yet the author Rasmus Ankerson calls it "hunger in paradise": the ability to "stay humble when the company cashes in record profits".

With a net worth estimated at over £120m, Sharapova doesn't have to measure out her life in forehand drills and ice-baths any more. She doesn't have to rush home from Paris, as she did at the beginning of this month, to have blood tests after a heavy cold.

Nor does she have to keep pushing through the pain of her chronically sore serving shoulder, which has never fully recovered from its reconstruction in 2008.

But this is a woman who cannot imagine a life without competition.

Asked over the weekend about her recent illness, Sharapova replied: "It's kind of annoying having to cough and blow your nose 100 times when you're just trying to become a great tennis player."

Note the "become" in that sentence: almost everyone else - with the possible exception of her bitter rival Serena Williams - would surely agree that she is great enough already.

Konta's best chance yesterday was to catch Sharapova a little undercooked, after just ten days' of grass-court training. She certainly could not expect any complacency from a woman who takes nothing for granted.

And in the event, Konta ran into an 18-wheeler, travelling in something close to top gear. The only vulnerability that Sharapova showed was her flaky second serve, which leaked seven double-faults.

It was a visceral affair and a noisy one too, not just because the "thunk" of Sharapova's thunderous groundstrokes kept echoing around the cathedral of Centre Court, but because her grunt-cum-screech only seems to be growing louder with age.

"I've played other players who grunt quite loudly," said Konta. "But I don't quite hear that on the other side. I'm tracking the ball, breathing, doing my own thing."

Konta was also struggling to live with the howitzers that kept homing in on her baseline. Time and again, Sharapova had her digging up the ball defensively like a cricketer fending a bouncer off her nose.

Time and again, Sharapova was ready to put the weak return away with her lethal swing volley. It is hard to think of a player - male or female - who plays the shot better.

At least Konta contributed enough grit of her own to make this a worthwhile spectacle - however testing it might have been on the ears. It has been a summer to remember for the British No 2, who claimed her first top-ten scalp at Eastbourne last week when she ousted world No 8 Ekaterina Makarova.


Previously known as a player with a strong physique but a shaky psyche, she is beginning to look like she can keep her head together for long enough to make a sustained assault on the top 100. (Her present ranking is No 126.)

This tournament, however, has not thrown up the friendliest of draws, for Konta and her American partner Maria Sanchez are due to play the Williams sisters in the doubles.

"I was joking with my mixed-doubles partner, saying 'Don't be surprised if we end up playing the Bryan brothers with one of them dressed up as a girl,'" Konta quipped.

"But to be honest, I feel I'm one of the luckiest athletes in the world to get to play not one, not two, but three incredible champions in the space of a few days." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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