[FOUNTAIN]Father’s grit helped make her championMaria Sharapova is famous for her grunts. From the spectator stand, her father, Yuri, returns her every shriek with “Masha!,” as her family called her in Russian when she was a little girl. When Sharapova defeated Serena Williams and won the 2004 Wimbledon tennis tournament, she ran up to her father and embraced him. And she called her mother in the United States on her father’s cell phone. She credited her family’s sacrifice and support for her victory.
It was Yuri Sharapova’s devotion and tenacity that made today’s Maria Sharapova. In his youth, he thought that becoming an athlete would be a means to escape from the former Soviet Union. He wished to become a cyclist and then tried out cross-country skiing, but his efforts were all in vain. So he wanted his children to accomplish his dream for him. When his wife Yelena became pregnant only four months after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, he decided to leave his home town to avoid possible harm to the child. The family relocated to the oil-rich region of Siberia, and Yuri worked as a construction worker. When Maria turned three, the family moved again for warmer climate to a resort town on the Black Sea so that Maria could participate in sports.
When Maria was four, Yuri made up his mind to make his daughter a tennis player. Himself a tennis fanatic, Yuri swung his tennis racket until young Maria got exhausted. At age seven, Maria was taken to the famous Nick Bolletieri’s tennis academy in Florida. Yuri was increasingly impatient and demanded that Maria’s coach make her a left-handed player because her right-hand swing was not powerful enough. For a month, the right-handed girl had to train with her left hand. The incident proves the determination and obstinacy of Yuri.
The devotion of the father was translated into the spirit of the daughter. Only ten years later, Sharapova realized the dream of winning the Wimbledon championship. The $1 million dollar prize was only a beginning. Maria Sharapova is expected to earn $200 million over ten years. Despite her beauty, Maria has always assured people that she is different from Anna Kournikova, another Russian tennis beauty who has been more successful in modeling. At the same time, Maria Sharapova should be different from Jennifer Capriati, whose tennis career was ruined by her demanding “tennis dad.”
by Oh Byung-sang
The writer is the JoongAng Ilbo’s London correspondent.