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Rule the World

Unstoppable: My Life So Far is the autobiographical account of the most famous female athlete in the world, tennis player Maria Sharapova, and her humble beginnings, rivalry with Serena Williams,

Rule the World

BOOK REVIEW

Unstoppable: My Life So Far is the autobiographical account of the most famous female athlete in the world, tennis player Maria Sharapova, and her humble beginnings, rivalry with Serena Williams, sacrifices and adventures.

 

“This is a story about sacrifice, what you have to give up. But it’s also just the story of a girl and her father and their crazy adventure.” – Maria Sharapova

Maria Sharapova was only 6 years old when she moved from Russia to United States with her father, leaving her mother behind to enroll in a tennis academy where she could learn how to play tennis professionally.

Her story starts from a small town in Russia few paces away from the site of Chernobyl where she used to live with her parents. Tennis wasn’t a big sport in Russia at the time, she claims. Her father Yuri was given a tennis racket as a gift from a friend and so one day Maria and her father went to a place in town where he could practice. Young Maria picked up her father’s racket and started hitting the balls; one after another and so began the journey of a tennis superstar.

At a very delicate, innocent age, Maria’s life was tough. She moved to the United States with her father to a country where they didn’t speak the language and didn’t know many people.

With 700 US dollars in his pocket, Yuri and Maria went from academy to academy while maintaining various odd jobs to support themselves and to achieve one goal: To make Maria the best tennis player in the world. It was the kindness of strangers that helped them out initially, until Maria was inducted into an academy where she could hone her skills as a young tennis prodigy.

In America, the young athlete jumped from one tennis academy to another as her father who couldn’t speak the native language, and had no connections in the States, struggled to find work and shelter for the two of them.

At Nick Bolletieri’s famed academy, Sharapova trained in Anna Kournikova’s shadow and dressed in the older girl’s hand-me-down clothes since her father had other things to worry about. It was also Anna’s mother who jealously accused Yuri, of kidnapping Maria since their story didn’t make sense and had them kicked out of the academy. She would later invited back to the same academy after beating multiple players from said academy.

In another academy, Sekou Bangoura took them in, then later held Yuri’s travel documents as a way of having control over the father and daughter, and sometime later made an offer through which he could mooch of Sharapova’s earnings for eternity. It was her father’s one-time friend who came through, when he read the contract and explained what it really meant.

Maria was also different from her peers from a young age. By circumstance, she was always more intense and focused than those around her, “That was my gift. Not strength or speed. Stamina. I never got bored. Whatever I was doing, I could keep doing it forever.”

Cover-2Her childhood was a lonely one. Most of her peers were older than her and always the competition; the people she had to beat and therefore, were not her friends.  “You had an air about you,” remembers Bolletieri. “This is business, and you are in my way.” She describes, at 11, signing a sponsorship contract with Nike: “For the first time, I sort of understood what it was all about. Tennis is a sport, but it’s not just a sport. It’s a passion, but it’s not just a passion. It’s a business. It’s money. It’s stability for my family. I got it now. You might think this would upset or disillusion me, but the opposite was true. I finally knew why I was doing what I was doing. I finally understood the stakes. It finally made sense. From that moment, my tasks became clear—just go out there and win.”

In 2015, when Maria started writing this book, it was supposed to be her prelude to exiting from the game and possibly retiring. However, things changed when she was banned from the sport for two years for using a banned substance and that changed her plans.

Instead of retiring, she fought against the ban, got her sentenced reduced from 2 years to 15 months and focused on making a comeback on the tour.

It was this intense focus and discipline, which has made her the highest paid female athlete in the world for 11 years. She is also a business woman and has a no-nonsense attitude, both on and off the court.

In her book, she also talks about her high-profile relationship with ace tennis player – Grigor Dimotrov – why it worked and why it eventually ended. Tennis is the core of Maria Sharapova. Tennis, she observes, is both “my wound, and the salve for my wound.”

Her unusual composure on the court comes from those young years where she was separated from her mother, “If you don’t have a mother to cry to, you don’t cry. You just hang in there, knowing that eventually things will change—that the pain will subside, that the screw will turn.”

Often she is criticized for not making friends on the court, with her peers to which she says, “If I like you, I’ll have a harder time putting you away. I don’t believe I’m the only player who feels this way, but I am one of the few who will admit it.”

While mentioning Serena Williams: “She’s never forgiven me,” for beating her, against all odds, in the Wimbledon final in 2004 at the age of just 17.

Maria Sharapova doesn’t have many years left but by building brand ‘Maria Sharapova’, she will be in the limelight for years to come.

Nosheen Sabeeh

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