Maria Sharapova, the return of the banished
Tennis champion banned from doping courts intends to take her revenge at the US Open.
*This text was translated from French (excuse the grammar mistakes)
Paris Match. You are about to make your big comeback in a Grand Slam tournament after fifteen months of suspension for taking banned drugs. Are you nervous?
Maria Sharapova. My level of nerves has nothing to do with the importance of the tournament. I’m just very excited about going back to the circuit, I was looking to play again. But I never considered one tournament more important than another in my career.
This is the end of a difficult time for you. How are you now?
I resumed training, I travel. I’m about to publish a book. I’m busy again. It is the end of a long and difficult period, and the beginning of a new, exciting one. This hectic life, I needed it and I didn’t have it [while away from tennis]
Finally, what was the hardest part [your suspension]?
Not knowing when I was coming back; not knowing what tomorrow had for me. I had the impression that the thing I cherished above all had been taken away from me. Tennis is my passion, more than ever. I missed it terribly.
Did you ever think that everything could have ended for you?
I always knew I would play again. But I did not know when.
You are 30 years old, which in the world of high-level tennis is considering ‘old’. You just got injured again, and you fell from the being #1 to the 148th in the rankings. You might have thought about ending your career …
Definitely not! This could have been an option, and surely the easiest, but I don’t remember a day where I’ve chosen the ‘easy road’. It’s not in my genes. I am very strong and demanding with myself.
Let’s go back to your doping suspension. You always denied cheating. You really did not realize that you were taking a banned substance?
Once and for all, no! If I had been conscious of doing something illegal, I would not have done it. I have explained this to myself on numerous occasions. I want to move on now.
Your team, and in particular the doctor who prescribed you the substance in question, shouldn’t they have been better informed?
My team and I, as well as the federations involved, have admitted that we should have been more careful and cautious. This is a lesson we’ve learned.
Do you think you have been used as an example and paid for other athletes who did the same thing and were not suspended?
No, I have never compared myself to others. Everyone follows their own path, everyone has their own problems and everyone faces them in their own way. I have always traced my path without looking sideways.
Speaking of your competitors, some have had harsh words towards you, pointing the special treatment you had, when you received a wildcard to the Stuttgart tournament in April. Did that hurt you?
These criticisms did not prevent me from coming back and having good results. My goal has always been to move forward and succeed, including before this business. There is no reason for it to change.
What drives you to never give up?
No doubt the way I was raised and the difficulties that a young Russian girl of modest origin must overcome when she wants to succeed in such a competitive sport. The sacrifices that I had to make to get there made me stronger.
To what sacrifices do you allude?
When you get into high-level sport, you are very young and you are asked to react as a mature adult. It’s difficult. There are times when you feel alone.
Have you suffered in your life as a woman?
No, I do not see it that way because I feel I had no alternative. I am lucky to have that life and I have no regrets.
Until 2016, for several years you have been the highest paid sportswoman in the world. Were you afraid of losing everything, especially the many contracts you have with your sponsors?
No, I felt supported. I was obviously aware that my situation involved people who trusted me and that was a bad thing for everyone. But behind these brands, there are people I’ve been around for years and almost become a family.
Since the end of your suspension, you have played different tournaments in Europe, but not Roland Garros, which refused to award you a wildcard …
I did not have a choice, but I accepted that decision. That did not change my fondness to the tournament. I have great memories of Roland Garros, incredible matches, great victories, but also hard moments. I hope to return to Paris, of course. I’m sure it will be different next year.
Do you feel that what you have just experienced has changed you?
I would not say changed. I evolved, for sure, I learned a lot from my mistakes. When you go through such a trial, you are inevitably questioning yourself, thinking about yourself. You get good lessons, or maybe less good ones, but it’s an experience that makes you grow and makes you stronger.
The [words] fight and determination seem to define you perfectly.
Yes, I think since always, it has been a trait of my personality. I was born a warrior. In an individual sport, you are solely responsible for your destiny and you must fight to be at the highest level.
You arrived in the United States at the age of 7 and started your career there. Yet, you say you are still very Russian.
It is a feeling that I feel in my heart and that I can not explain. I carry it with me wherever I go in the world. Russia is the country where I was born, it is the culture in which my parents raised me and which I feel closest to.
You are not unaware that President Vladimir Putin is often criticized on human rights. What do you think about him?
It’s not the kind of thing I want to talk about.
Perhaps you were interested in the last presidential election in the United States, since you live there. Have you been surprised by the victory of Donald Trump?
I am not interested in politics and I do not want to comment on this.
You’ve traveled around the world. Are there countries that have marked you more than others?
Japan and Tokyo fascinate me, in part because of their culture. I also like to go to Tuscany, Italy, for nature, calm and serenity that this region inspires to me.
You expose yourself a lot on social network. Your Instagram account has more than 2.7 million followers, your autobiography will be released on September 12 in the US *. Do you want to protect more your personal life?
I think that, despite everything, I manage to keep a share of mystery. It is important, as an athlete and, of course, as a woman.
It’s true that we do not know much about your sentimental life. Do you see yourself leading a classical life, married with children?
Of course! not talk about it because it is indeed my private life, and I do not express myself willingly on the subject. But I have a very close relationship with my mother since I was little. We are the best friends in the world, and I hope that one day I will be able to share that with my own children.
Have you ever thought about what you will do when you retire?
I do not see that far yet, but I think it is important to realize what we love. And also to be financially safe, to have a stable life. Along with my tennis career, I am proud to have successfully developed my own brand, Sugarpova. I would like to continue on that path, that of business.
What can we wish for the future?
Health. The rest will follow.
Is the little girl who walked miles from her Russian village to her school proud of the woman she has become?
I’ve been working very hard to build this life that I love. I feel grateful when I look at all that I have accomplished and who I have become.