Photo: Golovanov/KivrinMaria Sharapova (RUS)
Maria Sharapova may have won almost everything there is to win in tennis but there is one notable trophy missing from her mantelpiece – an Olympic medal.
The 24-year-old Russian, who these days lives in Bradenton, Florida, has won Wimbledon, the US Open and the Australian Open and she has been ranked No. 1 in the world, yet she has never even competed at an Olympic Games in her illustrious tennis career.
“The Olympics is extremely important and it’s something that I have looked forward to for a very long time,” said Sharapova, who will be buoyed by the fact that London 2012’s tennis event is taking place at one of her favourite venues – Wimbledon. “I wasn’t in Beijing 4 years ago so it’s an experience I am very looking forward to and I think all the tennis players are.”
Like the rest of the tennis world, Sharapova knows that all eyes will be on the south west suburb of London and not just to see how the tennis players get on. The ground staff at the All England Lawn Tennis Club have a tough job on their hands to turn the turf round in time, but that matters little to the Russian superstar, who is simply happy to have the opportunity to play twice at such an historic ground.
“For me personally I’m going to be playing two major tournaments on grass so I’m quite excited for it because I love playing at Wimbledon,” she said. “I think just the fact that it will be at Wimbledon and knowing that I’ve made the Olympics – this is not Wimbledon – it will be quite strange and a different feeling but it’s a very exciting year for all of us.”
Sharapova was also keen to emphasize just how important the Olympic Games are in her home country. There was a time when the Russians were not interested in tennis – under the flag of the USSR it was only Olympic sports that were given sufficient funding to garner any realistic chance of success on a global scale.
And the current world No. 2 recalls growing up in Russia, where she was made to understand “the importance of the Olympics”. She added: “It was an honour not just to be an Olympian but obviously to have the goal of getting a medal and being part of all the athletes and representing your country.”
As a little girl the Olympic sports that interested Sharapova were figure skating, hockey and gymnastics. To have grown up in that culture gives her even more incentive not only to win a medal for herself in London this summer, but also to do her country proud.