On and off the court

Unstoppable: My Life So Far
Maria Sharapova
Penguin Random House

Unstoppable: My Life So Far Maria Sharapova Penguin Random House ₹699  

A tennis star’s lonely rise, fall, and recovery

In the epigraph to her new book, Unstoppable: My Life So Far, Maria Sharapova quotes Nelson Mandela: “Do not judge me by my successes. Judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.”

This is an obvious reference to the greatest misadventure of her life — the two-year suspension she received last March on testing positive for a banned substance. On appeal, it was reduced, but Sharapova’s return to the game this April was controversial with many players bitterly resenting it. Indeed, the book begins and ends with the doping episode, which continues to haunt her. How could she have gotten into such a position? You almost feel sorry for her. Almost.

Penned with the help of journalist Rich Cohen, the book is an account of Sharapova’s life so far, as the title suggests, and most of the chapters track her journey on and off the court before the suspension. It offers more than just a cursory glimpse, especially shedding light on her arrival in the U.S. with her father when she was only six years old.

For someone who is not a tennis fan, Unstoppable can be a surprisingly compelling read not for its prose, but the story — a rags-to-riches tale with a twist.

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

She talks about the time she had to wear Anna Kournikova’s hand-me-downs at Nick Bollettieri’s Academy (‘tennis prison’), serve a ‘vulture-like’ coach and manage without her mother.

The book offers some insight about how Sharapova became mentally tough. And also why she had a lonely ride: “No emotion. No fear. Like ice. I was not friends with the other girls, because that would make me softer, easier to beat.”

What is apparent too is Sharapova’s obsession with the Williams sisters, specifically Serena.

In her memoir, Sharapova speaks of Serena in a detailed and almost antagonist way. While many gathered to watch Serena and Venus practise, Sharapova, then aged 12, did not want to give the sisters the satisfaction of seeing her in the stands.

“I’d never put myself in the position of worshipping them, looking up, being a fan,” she writes. Sharapova may have thought (and written) “I’m going to get you,” but it was clearly Serena who emerged victorious in most of their battles. In a moment of rather uncharacteristic humility, Sharapova admits, “She owned me.”

The story of this great rivalry makes one wish to see them in court again soon.

Unstoppable: My Life So Far; Maria Sharapova, Penguin Random House, ₹699.

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Printable version | Jun 5, 2020 9:36:33 AM |

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