A Little Tennis Flashback: Maria Sharapova On Her Comeback & Surprising Win at the French Open
I stored some quotes from Maria Sharapova away because I was impressed at how cogent and thoughtful she was in her interview after her somewhat astounding win at the French Open.
For those of you who don’t follow tennis, Sharapova is both loathed and respected in tennis circles. Some loathe her because she’s a blonde beauty and has made a lot of money on endorsements, though in part that’s because she’s a multiple slam winner as well. Her game has been called “one-dimensional”—she was a student at Nick Bolleteri’s tennis academy in Florida from her childhood, and Bolleteri emphasizes less variety and more massive groundstrokes and a highly competitive, strong mind, both of which are in evidence in Sharapova’s game. Finally, there’s the shriek. She wasn’t the first female tennis screamer, but she’s the biggest name.
I’m in the “massive respect” category, though I don’t like the screaming/bellowing at all. I have great respect for people who are excellent competitors—people who just never ever ever give up no matter how bad things look. Even on her worst days, down by a huge score, Sharapova will always fight hard to the last ball. That’s just her.
She’s also one of the few women to have now won majors on all four surfaces—she, the “one-dimensional” non-artistic player owns a Grand Slam, and that is most surprising to almost everyone who follows tennis. The French Open was deemed an utter impossibility for her, in part because she had more of a power game, and clay rewards artistry, variety, and good wheels. She has always referred to herself on clay as “a cow on ice” and that certainly used to be the case.
But the thing that I have most admired her for is her comeback from a devastating shoulder injury and rotator cuff surgery, one that has been an utterly brutal four year process. She dropped out of the top 100 in the year after that surgery, and some didn’t think she’d make it back to professional tennis. When she finally returned, her serve was hellacious—for two long long years. I remember commentators on her match—former tennis pros—wondering aloud why she didn’t retire since she clearly was not going to recover a once powerful weapon, her serve. I watched her double-fault games and matches away; it was humiliating beyond belief just to watch her, commentators openly were embarrased for her and I often wondered how a former slam winner and former number one in the world could possibly go through such mental agony over a two year period—well after her supposed recovery from the rotator cuff surgery.
Still—sometime in 2011, I remember recognizing that she was always going to “keep coming.” She just wasn’t going to stop. There was something in her that allowed her to go through 20 and more double faults in a match on national tv, and get out there again on the practice court the next day.
I was overwhelmed with respect and admiration. There is no way I could have gone through those kinds of humiliating losses.
And at some point in 2011—where once she would have double-faulted—she didn’t.
The commentators started noticing it too. She clawed her way back to her first final at a Grand Slam at Wimbledon of 2011, which she lost.
And this year, she won Roland Garros, a more unlikely win I could not have imagined for her.
So at any rate, a blonde-haired, blue-eyed leggy Russian player is somebody I have to listen to occasionally—she’s earned my attention—when she speaks about comebacks and keeping on keeping on.
I’m sharing a bit of those comments below that she made in response to some questions—you can read excerpts from the interview over at the WTA website:
“It’s a long journey. It started from a very young age. It’s not over yet, you know. I’m not sitting here and saying I’m done, because I’m far from it. I have a lot more in me to achieve. I believe in my game. I think that’s one of the reasons why I’m sitting here, is because I always believed I could be better, a better player, whether it was on clay, grass, cement, anything - I always strive to be better. And one percent here, a few there, that’s what I’ve always wanted to achieve. No matter how tough it was, no matter how many people didn’t believe in me and didn’t think I could get to this point, I didn’t care and I didn’t listen. I always listened to my own voice, and it always told me for some reason I’m meant to be better. I’m meant to succeed again. And I did.
“I proved that no matter how many punches I took, I’ve always gotten back up. I never made excuses, not to myself, not to other people. I always relied on my own talent and on the help of my team. And at the end of the day that’s really what gets me through. I have a tremendous amount of belief and pride in what I do. I love my work. I’ve always said this. I love playing tennis.
“I had so many outs in my career. I could have said I don’t need this. I have money; I have fame; I have victories; I have Grand Slams. But when your love for something is bigger than all those things, you continue to keep getting up in the morning when it’s freezing outside, when you know that it can be the most difficult day, when nothing is working, when you feel like the belief sometimes isn’t there from the outside world, and you seem so small. But you can achieve great things when you don’t listen to all of those things.”
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