Maria Sharapova’s biography Unstoppable is prefaced by a line made famous by Nelson Mandela. “Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again,” the great man once said.
Top-notch professional sports people do not lack confidence. In addition to God-given talent and hours and hours of relentless practice, it’s often the final ingredient that differentiates them from their peers. Sharapova falls into that premier category and is soon echoing Mandela when tackling the subject which threatens to overshadow a career that has seen her win five Grand Slam titles: her recent drugs ban.
After failing a urine test at the 2016 Australian Open, Sharapova is incandescent. How, she wonders out loud, does Meldonium enhance her on-court performance? “Even the ITF can’t tell you. Because it doesn’t,” she rages. The response of a supremely confident individual or folly?
There is no doubting Sharapova’s admirable tenacity and determination. Taken from Russia to the USA by her father when she was just six years old in order to develop her burgeoning talent, the little girl didn’t see her mother for several years. It was on the practice courts of Florida that Sharapova’s competitiveness, toughness and confidence were nurtured. Her father realised that if she was to succeed on the professional tennis circuit, she had to be tough and self-sufficient. Mindful that he lacked any form of contacts in the sport, he appreciated that hard work, married to her obvious flair, was the only available route to success. It was a strategy that undoubtedly worked.
Fortunately, Unstoppable isn’t littered with tales likely to be pored over by glossy magazines interested only in ‘the love angle’ (why do biographies of sportswomen always have to have that anyway?). The hours of relentless practice are a big part of Sharapova’s life. “The desire to be the happiest player on the last day of a big tournament never diminishes,” she writes, but it’s a hard uphill slog to get there in the first place.
Irrespective of your views regarding Sharapova’s drugs ban, Unstoppable offers an insight into the tedium of professional sport. In this respect, it is very good. Without the daily grind of practice, the rewards will never materialise. There’s plenty of falling down, but Sharapova keeps getting back up again. For this alone, you have to admire her.