The 17 year-old Maria Sharapova swept aside the defending champion Serena Williams in a dramatic Center Court final Saturday to win Russia's first singles title at Wimbledon. After the match, an ecstatic Sharapova rushed to the stands to hug her dad.
Ten years ago, Yuri Sharapov ran excitedly around Moscow tennis clubs trying to convince coaches that the skinny six-year-old girl he was dragging along, his daughter, was a future tennis star. But the coaches would not listen...
In the 1990s, the government stopped subsidizing sports in Russia. Instruction at tennis clubs was no longer free and the father of the future star had little extra money.
The Sharapovs are originally from Gomel, Belarus, however the city was in the fallout zone after the Chernobyl accident. Worried about the health of his expectant wife and their future child, Yuri took his family to a small town in Siberia. Soon after Maria's birth, the family moved on to Sochi, a sea resort in southern Russia. The future Wimbledon champion took her first tennis lessons from coach Yuri Yutkin in Sochi. Incidentally, her first racquet was a gift from the famous Russian player Yevgeny Kafelnikov.
Later, with financial support from Gazprom, Sharapov was able to take his daughter to the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Florida. But the money soon ran out and Yuri took odd jobs to pay for Maria's training.
Maria's debut in 2001 was not particularly successful, however, in just a year's time, the young athlete was already ranked in the top 300.
She is renowned for her aggressive, impulsive style and her powerful forehands and backhands. She prefers playing on the baseline, and is a powerful hitter. The style has been already known as "Sharapova's".
Vladimir Kamelzon, the chairman of the Russian Tennis Federation's Coach Council, noted that Maria has a rare talent for choosing the right position on court and that she was alsogood at improvising and could play high-speed tennis.
Sharapova owes much to her family and certainly to her American coaches. However, she is a native Russian and she feels Russian. She said that she was not going to change her citizenship.
The rising star does not like being compared to another Russian tennis genius, Anna Kournikova. Maria is equally good-looking, but does not want to overshadow Kournikova on the covers of glamorous magazines. She has already outplayed Anna on the court.
By claiming the Wimbledon title, Sharapova has found herself among the top ten in the world. Her win comes shortly after an all-Russian French Open final, in which Anastasia Myskina and Elena Dementieva won gold and silver. All this gives every reason to discuss a "Russian phenomenon" in women's tennis.
Kamelzon said the Russian women's success at recent Grand Slam events is because of a number of psychological and financial reasons. On the one hand, girls' training is not as expensive as boys' for they have to take part in less number of tournaments to reach the heights. And on the other, girls are usually more disciplined, well-balanced and hard working, as they develop a sense of responsibility at an early age.
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