Book Review | Unstoppable My Life So Far By Maria Sharapova
Do not judge me by my successes. Judge me by how many times I fell down, and got back up again. -Nelson Mandela
That’s how Unstoppable My Life So Far begins (on sale September 12.) And when you finish reading the new bio from Maria Sharapova, you realize that this relentlessness is what makes her who she is. It’s the driving force in her life, and it started at a very early age, when people noticed that this small girl from Russia had extraordinary powers of concentration.
She could stand out there and drill the tennis ball over and over, grooving the stroke to the point of perfection. Other older girls she played against would sulk, pout and throw tantrums. She’d just lock in harder and blast the ball back. Over and over. It became intimidating, said famed coach Nick Bolletieri. “You scared the sh** out of the other girls.”
A former Sharapova coach said he told players who would go up against her, “Don’t look her in the eyes before, during, or after a match.” Again, intimidation. You go with what works.
We learn that the young Sharapova hung from a closet hanger pole by her arms to try and get taller. (It worked.) She picked up her English from watching Barney on TV. We learn that her father Yuri was enterprising enough to score a rare visa to the United States for him and his daughter, forcing them to leave Mrs. Sharapova behind. They arrived in Florida with $700 and only a vague plan to get to Rick Macci’s tennis academy, which didn’t quite work.
They migrated to Bolletieri’s camp, but had to eventually leave because she was too young, and, according to the book, because of a discreet whisper campaign from Anna Kournikova’s mother- perhaps jealous that there was now a younger but just as blond Russian princess in the spotlight. (Sharapova wore Kournikova’s hand-me-down clothing for awhile, it seems.) She also spent time with a fellow named Sekou Bangoura who had his own tennis camp called “El Conquistador,” and let’s just say he doesn’t come off as a quality dude in this book.
For awhile, it was one step forward, two steps back.
Eventually through a series of circumstances we learn about her getting involved with Robert Lansdorp (coach to Tracy Austin and Lindsay Davenport,) getting hooked up with IMG (the mom of the wife of IMG CEO Mark McCormack called her daughter (former pro Betsy Nagelsen) and said ‘you’ve got to see this girl,’ and other life events that would help shape her career, like signing with Nike at just 11 years old. We also get a peek inside her memorable first Slam title, the 2004 Wimbledon win over Serena:
I think (Serena) hated me for seeing me at her lowest moment, but mostly I think she hated me for me hearing her cry. She’s never forgiven me for that. -Maria Sharapova
We also hear about the jealousy of other players on tour as a result of her success. For example:
Elena Dementieva, a Russian who traveled with her mother, was always giving me dirty looks, laser beams. Then one day her mother complained to my masseur, a Russian who worked with a lot of Russian players. She told him, ‘Elena can’t get any deals in Japan because Maria has taken them all. -Maria Sharapova
Sharapova touches on the 2008 shoulder surgery that seriously derailed her game, all of her Grand Slam championships, goes into detail about two main relationships she’s had (Sasha Vujacic, Grigor Dimitrov) and naturally, ends up with the ITF finding that cuts down her suspension time to 15 months.
All in all, this is a keen look into the driven, steely psyche of a world-class athlete who many of us thought we “knew,” but it turns out we didn’t really know the whole picture. This book works to paint that picture for us.
“Now I only think about playing. As long as I can. As hard as I can. Until they take down the nets. Until they burn my rackets. Until they stop me. And I want to see them try.”- Maria Sharapova
*Photoshoot images via Porsche