Maria Sharapova - Making a Return to Tennis in "Unstoppable: My Life So Far" - Extended Interview

Extended - September 12, 2017 - Maria Sharapova 09/12/2017 Views: 19,343

Pro tennis player and "Unstoppable" author Maria Sharapova talks about immigrating to the U.S. as a child and opens up about her two-year ban from tennis. (14:22)

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My guest tonightis an Olympic silver medalist,

a five-time Grand Slam champion,

and the author of the new book Unstoppable: My Life So Far.

Please welcometennis player Maria Sharapova.

(cheering, applause)

Thank you.

Thank you so much.

-Welcome to the show.-Thank you. I'm a huge fan.

Oh, I appreciate it.Thank you very much.

-Uh, you are still in New Yorkafter the U.S. Open. -Yes.

As someone who playsin such a huge tournament,

I've always wanted to know:

when the tournament is done,do you just stop watching,

or do you, like,hate-watch the rest of it?

I did not watch much after.

-And usually you geton the next flight home, -Right.

and I didn't because I hadthe press tour for the book.

But, um, that's usuallythe feeling that you have.

It's "Pack your bags.It's done. Finished. Go home."

(both laugh)

-It's, uh...-Isn't that sad?

It really is.

-It is sad. -It's, like,all this preparation,

and then you just never know

when you're gonna have to packyour bag.

-Whether you win or lose.-But you...

you still get paid,though, right?

You do, but you get paid betterthe more you win.

-Oh, yeah. That sucks.-Right.

-No, I mean...-Yeah.

-That sucks.-There's something to play for.

-(laughs)-So that's okay.

There is a lot to play for,

and, uh, I think it comes acrossin the book.

Let's talk about the whyof the book first.

I mean, um,you're a young person.

-Yes.-Why write the book now?

What inspired youto get into your story,

-My Life So Far? -I never...

As someonethat was in my early 20s,

I never thought I would writea memoir at this age.

And as I was doing interviewsand press conferences

and journalistswould ask me about my story

of how I got to where I am,

and I started talkingabout my father,

coming to America asa six-and-a-half-year-old girl,

arriving in Miami Airportwith only $700.

I would get more questions.

It was as if no onebelieved my story,

-Right. -which, sometimeswhen I talk about,

I don't believe it, either.

And I just feltlike there's a lot of depth.

There's a lotof inspiration in it,

and I wanted to put it on paper.

You really do have a storyof overcoming all odds,

because you were bornin Siberia, Russia,

and then you moved to Sochi

when you were,what, four years old?

-Yes. Two.-And then... Two years old.

-Yes.-And then you moved to the U.S.

-when you were six years oldto start playing tennis. -Yes.

-That's right. -I thinkwhat gripped me in the book

was talking about howyour father gave everything up.

-Everything.-Your family was like,

-Yes. -"It's allabout Maria's journey.

-Right. -We're gonnaput everything behind you."

Is that notthe ultimate stress, though?

Like, with every backhand,are you not going,

-"Mortgage. Payments. Family."-(laughs)

Well, I will saythat I was never afraid

to go back to what I had,because in Russia,

we had a verystable and normal lifestyle.

-Right. -My parentsmade a normal amount of money.

They were very young.They were a young couple,

and my mom had mewhen she was very young.

But arrivingin the United States...

What $700 does in Florida

-is not what $700 doesin Russia, so... -Right.

Um, it... When you arrivein Miami, and you have $700,

it's basicallylike you have nothing.

And that's how we really felt.

When you talkabout your journey, you know,

you're travelingthroughout the United States.

You talk about goingto tennis academies,

which, honestly,I-I didn't really know about.

It seems likesuch a close-knit community

where, for instance, you wereplaying with Anna Kournikova,

-Yes.-and you're meeting

-all of these tennis people-All of them. Yeah.

who have become, really, rivals

-and also competitorsin the game. -Right. Exactly.

When you were playing together,did you know

that that's whereyou were gonna end up?

It's where I wanted to end up.

I mean, I thinkwe all have dreams,

and we have a vision and goals,and my parents did, as well.

When it's young,it's almost like

you're ultimately livingyour parents' dream.

Of course, you lovewhat you do,

and I was so excited to be inthis new culture, new language.

No one shuts up,everyone's talking

and having a good timeand playing.

I mean, you have a racket anda ball, and what are we doing?

We're so little, we don't evenknow what we're doing.

But we have this vision.

We see on the television screenthese matches,

these classic rivalries,

and ultimately,we want to be there.

And so, whether you willget there-- that's the question.

And so, I think in this book...

I mean, there are so many pathsthat we could have taken.

And the reason whythe book is called Unstoppable

is 'cause we have...In my...

Within this journey,there are so many roadblocks,

and so many people that said no,and I wasn't good enough.

And, you know, "Maybe she'llnever win the French Open.

She's not strong enough."

Um, and that was the mentality

that I-I really startat a very young age.

You started off with $700.

You've now gone on to earnmany millions of dollars.

If you could go backand give yourself any advice

or say anything to that littleMaria who was playing tennis,

what would you tell her?

I think to alwayscontinue playing

like you only have $700,

and to always have this dream,

and to always feel like maybeyou don't have it right now.

Because, you know,I travel around the world,

and you neverevery single tournament

where you're gonna be.

I've been there.

I've been fortunateto win incredible events

and-and the career Grand Slam.

But in order to wantto win it again,

-you have to feel like maybeyou haven't done it yet. -Right.

Like, to have that hungerand motivation.

And to find somethingthat drives you.

You-you speak in the book

about one of the mostdevastating moments

in your career.

And that was when you had

-what many people called"the doping scandal." -Right.

You know, and you speakabout using medication

that was never banned for,I think it was ten years.

-Yeah, ten years. -And thenone day, a list comes out.

The substance is banned,you go through this process.

-Tell me how that happenedfrom your point of view. -Yeah.

Like, what... what was Mariagoing through in that situation?

Yeah, I speak about... uh, aboutit very openly in the book.

'Cause it was, I mean,an incredibly tough journey

that I had for those 15 months.

And so many uncertainties,so many unknowns.

When I got the e-mailthat I had failed that test,

um, it was, like, shock,disbelief, what is it?

Had no... Hadn't knownwhat that name was.

When I found out, I was like,"Well, this is a mistake.

I've been taking itfor a long time."

It was completely legal.Then found out it was not legal.

And, you know, in that position,I think

there's so many peopleyou can blame,

-and it always startswith yourself. -Right.

But I don't think it would havegotten me anywhere.

And, um, I came outin front of it.

Um, you know, I told the worldwhat-what had happened.

And I think, with thatmentality, I went through it.

I kept training, I kept...

I knew that I would beback on the court.

I didn't know when,and when I found out

that it would be Aprilthis year, I was...

I mean, I was so excited.

And then being back at my firstGrand Slam in 19 months

was very speciala few weeks ago.

When your fellow tennis playerscame out,

some of them, and-and reallyspoke out angrily

at, you know, the... your testthat was failed... -Mm-hmm.

You know, people saying,"Well, this is Maria. She's...

"You know, that meansshe's cheated all along.

And she doesn't belongin the game."

And looking at that situation,looking at those players

and looking at playingwith them now,

how did that make you feel?

And do... could you understandwhere

-maybe some of themwere coming from? -Yeah.

I think, on a human level,deep down inside,

that's always tough to hear,there's no doubt about it.

And that's why, I mean,it took a long time

for me to be ableto write about it,

because, I mean,as you can imagine,

my family and I wentthrough a very difficult time,

and I had, you know,I put this book aside

and I didn't write at allfor a long time.

But I was ready--I mean, there's a part of me

that felt like, you know...I've been very guarded

throughout my whole career.

I mean, I gained successat a very young age.

I was only 17 years oldwhen I won my first major,

and... I don't know,I think immediately

I just became isolated,because I-I...

I got everything...everyone around me,

everything around mejust began moving,

and all I had was just,I just wanted to play tennis.

-Right.-I just wanted to win.

Um, and so when this happened,on the human level,

it was like, you know what,yeah, this is really hard,

and I'm feeling very, like,sad and vulnerable about it,

but that's okay.

Like, this...there's a certain element

of, like, power that gets youthrough those moments.

If someone says,uh, "Hey, Maria,

"you know, I've been playingtennis for a long time,

"and, you know, I don't getthe wild card entry

"into the U.S. Open.

"You're someone who has justcome off this doping scandal,

"and now you get to bethe wild card

"and you get to playon Center Court.

-That's not fair to me."-Mm.

Like, how do yourespond to that?

What do you... how do you tryand process that information?

I think, well, the waythat I process is that

I am not the onethat makes those decisions.

I'm not the one that makesthe wild card decision.

I'm not the one that makesthe scheduling decision.

I said this from the beginning--if you want to put me

on the back court,I'll play in the back court.

If I'm in the draw,that means I'm playing.

It doesn't matterwhere I'm playing.

So, you know,there are some elements that...

there are some thingsthat make headlines

that you have zero control over.

Um, and that's the way I see it.

I've been... I've beenin this sport for a long time.

I understand it very well.

And, of course, as I saidwhen everything happened,

when you hear playerssaying those things,

it's not kind, and itmakes you feel very lonely.

But, um, ultimately,I know why I do it,

and I still choose to do it.

I think I have a choice,and I choose to do it

because I know what I can give,still, to the sport.

You come out of the scandal,the doping commission says:

Yes, Maria,we admit on our side

we should have given youmore notice.

We should have told youall the names of the drugs

that were now movedonto a banned list.

So there were things thatwe could have done better.

There's a bitof vindication in that.

But it felt like, in many ways,you beating the number two seed

in your first match, really,back in a grand slam

was the ultimate vindication.

Is that how it felt for you?

I don't think I play this gamefor vindication.

And I... maybe I did in the pastand a long time ago.

You know,someone says something,

and, you know, those words stayin the back of your mind

and you play them.

But at this point in my lifeand in my career,

I think there's so much moreto what I do.

There's a lot...there's a lot more depth, and...

and it's also because I havethe opportunity to not do it,

and I still choose to do.

And it's not becausesomeone said something

or, um, or a formof vindication.

Um, tennis is a very physicaland emotional sport,

and you give a lot to it, andso all these external things...

Thankfully,I've had the experience

of challenges before--shoulder surgery, media,

um, headlines--I've seen it all.

-Right. -So it, uh, it certainlyadded a chapter in my book,

but it's...but to get through it

and to beon the other side of it

and to be competing again,and, as you said,

playing and beating thenumber two player in the world

at the U.S. Openwas a great moment.

There are many chaptersin your book,

some chapters that havereally sparked conversation

in the public.

One of the excerpts thatcame out before the book itself

was one where you were speakingabout Serena Williams.

-Right. -And yourself and Serenahave had a very long rivalry.

You know, you beat herwhen you were 17 years old,

and then you went on to playagainst her multiple times,

-I think 21 times in total.-Yeah.

And Serena Williams has, inmany ways, dominated the sport.

-Mm-hmm. -Some people have saidthat you were obsessed...

-Well, dominated our record,right? -Yeah, yeah, definitely.

-That's for sure.-Um....

And some people have said,you know, it feels like,

Maria, like, you're reallyfixated on Serena.

-Like, there's an obsessionthat you have with her. -Hmm.

Would you say you do have one,or would you say that it's, uh,

-you know, a healthy competitivenature that you have? -Yeah.

Well, what's funny is thatwhen you read the book,

and it's over 300 pages,is maybe ten pages of the book

-are about the Wimbledon final.-Right.

And that is the-the piece that,um, some of the news outlets

chose to, um, chose to go with.

And it's-it's absolutelyunderstandable.

I mean, I wrote the partabout Serena

and the 2004 Wimbledon finalagainst her,

because she, I mean, she'ssomeone that I watched grow up

at the Bollettieri Academyin Florida as a little girl.

And I-I saw her froma little video shed,

literally, watching 25 yearsof my life in front of me

with her and Venus practicing.

And maybe, hoping, that one dayI'd compete against them,

so it was really inevitable thatI would touch upon that subject.

I mean,it was the biggest moment

of my, of my young career.

When-when you described Serenain the book, you know,

you described her, you said,

a lot of people don't know thisfrom TV, maybe,

-but when you get up close,she's really strong. -Mm-hmm.

She has, like, big armsand she has thick legs,

and she's a reallypowerful person.

Some people, uh,took this as a,

I would say, a slight, you know.

People said, "Hey, Maria,why are you saying that

-about Serena?-Right.

She's smaller than you,she's a short person.

She's fairly tiny.

-Um, did you understand...-She's not short.

She's-- Oh, I--shorter than you, I--

-Everyone's shorter than you.-Shorter than me.

-Everyone's shorter than you.-That's so true.

-But, uh, but...-Very problematic.

But, um--I feel like that's dating.


Why do you cometo that conclusion?

Um, like, I-I do wonder, though,

-like, looking back on it,because I-I get -Right.

-that you were being candidin the book, -Right.

but is there a moment whereyou look at those words

and the way they're perceived,and maybe go,

"Ah, that's not what Iwas trying to do."

-Or, "That's not whatI was intending." -Right.

-Or do you understand how peopleperceive what you said? -Yeah.

I think you have to see itfrom point of view

as I was a 17-year-old teenager

that had just come onto the tennis scene.

So I was still not at my height.

I was far from beingat my strength.

I was inexperienced.

And Serena Williamsis intimidating.

The confidence with whichshe walks out on the court

-is intimidating.-Right.

And her physical presenceis intimidating as well.

So I described that as this girl

that just walks with, like--

I mean, I-I really did not feel

like I belonged in thatWimbledon final,

and her presence wascompletely overpowering.

-So that was 17-year-oldMaria Sharapova. -Exactly.

When you face off withSerene Williams today,

has that changed?How do you see her now?

Well, she's, I mean, she's sucha confident individual,

and you feel it. I mean,I feel it every time;

every player does.

And that's the type ofconfidence that wins the,

-the amount of Grand Slamsthat she has. -Right.

Um, one thing I wanted to askyou about before I let you go.

'Cause I could go throughthe entire book.

The story's amazing,the insights that you give,

-and the behind-the-scenes.-Thank you.

I wanted to know how you choosewhich sound you make

when you hit the ball.

I thought....(laughs)

Like, is there, like,a selection process?

'Cause everyone has, like,a different grunt.

I thought it's prettyconsistently loud.

-That's the way that I see it.-Yeah, but I mean, like...

It's not as if I changethe noise, it's just the...

No, but everyone hasa different noise.

Like, some people have, like,the (high-pitched grunt).

-Okay, right. -And then, somepeople are (lower grunt).

And then, like, some people--Like, I wonder,

is it like, uh,do you practice that?

Do you-- or is it just, like,your natural... ?

Like, have you ever thought,like, have you ever thought

of maybe doing, like,a Michael Jackson?

(mimics Michael Jacksonhigh-pitched grunt)

Like, on each one...


I will try that next week.

You should should try.

-Try it, I will watch. -I willlet you know how it goes.

-Let me know how it goes.-I'll report back.

Thank you so muchfor coming to the show.

-Thanks for having me.-I appreciate you joining us.

Unstoppable is on sale now.

It is a fascinating story.

Maria Sharapova, everybody.

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