How did Russian Doll Maria Sharapova kick off her journey with an oversized tennis racket?

Yuri Yudkin told my father about a center in Moscow, a demonstration platform for young Russian athletes organized by several local tennis organizations. You know the process: send your kids here, the kids with potential and the desire to become champions. My father was determined to take me there. I’m not sure how he managed to afford the plane tickets, but he always had the magical ability to make things happen!

Maria Sharapova's Net Worth: Unveiling the Tennis Champ's Earnings & Legacy

The event takes place in a facility that resembles a giant hangar, with courts and trainers, and the sounds of rackets hitting tennis balls. There were hundreds of children playing tennis there, which meant hundreds of parents went along. Everything shocked me. Before that time, I thought that the tennis players in Sochi were all the tennis players in the world, and my father and I were special among them. Now I realize there are dozens and dozens of little girls who play tennis, each of them with a father who thinks their daughter will definitely become the best in the world…

I stood and watched them hit the ball. I felt fascinated, I felt the need to be humble but also confident. I could see that I was better than most of them, that we didn’t hit the ball the same way. The center was filled with people involved in tennis, with coaches and athletes wandering around, observing or giving us advice.

Martina Navratilova was also there. This made me quite nervous – there, the greatest athlete was standing right in front of me. I thought we would compete against professional athletes, one-on-one, but I was only six years old so I wasn’t sure what it would be like. Ultimately it’s like an assembly line: you line up, wait for your turn to hit a ball or two, then get back in line.

During my 2nd or 3rd shot, Navratilova spotted me. My legs and arms were too big for my body, and my knees were shaky. And I have a racket that is too big. In other words, I looked quite funny, maybe that’s why she noticed me, and realized that I could play tennis. Although I’m small, I have a pretty good swing and am very focused.

When I finished, Navratilova pulled my father aside to talk. They brought in a translator because my father did not know English. I’m not sure exactly what the two said to each other, but the basic thing from Martina was: his daughter can play tennis; he needed to get her out of the country, to a place where she could develop her abilities. America.

My father started planning as soon as we returned to Sochi. He was determined to bring me to America because he believed that was the only place where I could develop my ability to play tennis. He decided to choose Florida as his destination. Why? I could give you a complicated explanation, comparing one area to another, one academy to another, but the reality is that Yuri is a superstitious person who follows omens, and he saw a sign pointing to Florida. This sign comes in the form of… two articles.

An article about the Williams sisters and their practice at Rick Macci’s tennis academy in Boca Raton. Another article about Anna Kournikova and how she trains at Nick Bollettieri’s academy in Bradenton. My father believes that the above articles fell into his hands at this time for a reason. He was “informed” where to go!

Nowadays, going to America is just a simple plan. You apply for a tourist visa, call the airline, buy a plane ticket and go! But in the early 1990s, things were not so easy. The Soviet Union had just disintegrated. Finding a job at that time was almost impossible, and therefore it was difficult for a person to earn a living and raise a family. It’s very difficult to do anything.

Even if you have money, you can’t get on a plane to America. It is very difficult to get a visa – visas are only given to people traveling for Government business. My father knew that he needed help from public authorities, so he wrote a letter to the coach of the Russian national youth tennis team. He never asked me to play for the team, which was only for children 12 years old and up and I was only six years old, but my father hoped the federation would sponsor me with a vision for the future. .

He explained our case, described my talents, mentioned the names Yudkin and Navratilova. His efforts were successful, or at least it seemed so. Incidentally, the Russian youth team will practice in Florida to prepare for a tour in the US. The coach replied with an email inviting us to visit and practice with the team.

The visa is priceless

My father went to the American embassy in Moscow to apply for a visa. He was only 28 years old at the time, wearing his only suit, the one he wore on his wedding day. He is willing to trust luck and fate (there are signs that tell you what to do if you know how to “read” them). He had a letter from the coach of the Russian youth team and had already sketched out in his mind what to say.

My father waited for hours and finally stood before an embassy official. This man carefully observed Yuri, then examined the letter and other papers, pictures and carefully stamped pages. Meanwhile, my father talked continuously, as if giving a speech with words like Yudkin, Mozart, Navratilova, prodigy, etc.. and so on.

Finally, the embassy employee looked up and said: “I also have a daughter, she also plays tennis, and she plays well. My child is eight years old this year. But I don’t think he’s a tennis prodigy. Your daughter is only six years old, how do you really know she is better than my daughter? Maybe he was just observing her from a father’s perspective.”

“I don’t know your daughter,” Yuri said, “but I know mine well. What I told you is the truth.”

“You want to take a six-year-old girl to America to practice?”


“And you didn’t suspect anything?”

“Absolutely not”.

He looked into my father’s eyes. “Are you sure?”

“That’s right”.

“And you know where you’re going and what you’re doing?”

“I know”.

"Búp bê Nga" Maria Sharapova bắt đầu với cây vợt quá khổ như thế nào? - Ảnh 2.
Sharapov father and son. Photo: tennisworldusa

So this man gave us a three-year visa! My father will need to return to Russia to renew after that time, but this visa is certainly an extremely rare and priceless item. The visa is a golden ticket, the freedom to come and go. It is difficult for an American or even a Russian today to imagine this miracle. At that time it was almost impossible to get the documents that Yuri achieved.

But there is also some misfortune here. As well as the rarity of the visa, it was also limited, only being issued to two people: me and my father Yuri. Using it meant that my father and I had to be separated from my mother, for who knew how long. Yuri considered carefully what he had to say to her, how he had to tell her to continue her life in Russia. He took me away from school, away from my family and away from my grandmother, and I was only six years old.

Later, when I asked my mother about it, she just shrugged and said, “Your father knows what he is doing.” Grandmother Tamara was more open than my mother: “I think your mother agreed because your father is a good person at persuading others,” she told me.

“Your father is very persuasive and your mother is a positive thinker. These two things combined made things happen, Grandma thought. Maybe your mother didn’t really want to let you go, but she believed it was for your own good. As for your father, he doesn’t just think about himself, but also about himself and his family. Russia has fallen apart. Tennis may be something for your child, but it’s also an escape for the family. If your father can ensure your life through tennis, the whole family can live thanks to you. And father and son were successful, everything went as expected.”

“Yuri was very smart in that aspect. But your mother didn’t think about it, even though deep down inside she understood what was really going on. Or, who knows? Maybe I Mom and I discussed this with each other. As for our grandparents, this was terrible. Yuri suddenly said he would take our grandchild to America! At that time, anyone who went to America went right away, no matter what. When will we hear from them again?

My father gathered all the money he had, then borrowed some more, about 700 USD in total, rolled it up and put it in his front pocket, so that whenever he felt stressed, he could know The money is probably still there. He booked tickets for an afternoon flight from Moscow to Miami, where someone from the Russian team would be waiting to welcome us. Very vague. I don’t remember what I wore or how I felt that day. I must have been sad to say goodbye to my mother, but maybe I didn’t fully understand what was going on, that I wouldn’t see her again until I was almost nine years old.

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