Sharapova ready to take on Serena and repeat 'baby face' Wimbledon triumph


For Maria Sharapova, winning Wimbledon at the age of 17 is "almost like a childhood memory". Back then, she recalled, she was a skinny girl with a baby face, and had a lot of growing to do before she reached her full height of 6 feet 2 inches (and she is considerably taller when wearing heels, as she was for this interview with ESPN). Now, 11 years on, Sharapova has only ever won Wimbledon as "a child".

"I was such a young girl," said Sharapova, who will play Britain's Johanna Konta in this year's first round. "Looking back at the tape, I had such a baby face, and the emotions were really showing on that baby face. And I was a skinny girl, too. I still wasn't as tall as I am today. I kept on growing for another two or three years after that victory.

"So it's been 11 years now, and I look back on that and I relive that memory inside of myself. Your first grand slam title is very special. What would I say to my 17-year-old self, to that young girl who won Wimbledon? I would say, 'Keep on doing what you're doing'. In fact, no, I don't think I would want to say anything. Life is such an experience and you have to go through it and you have to learn.

"I don't think, even if it were possible, that I would want to be giving my younger self advice because you have to go through those moments when you have to pick yourself up or you have to take another road, or back up."

The location of our meeting - in Mayfair, at the Porsche Centre just off Berkeley Square, a moneyed part of west London better known for hedge fund managers than contenders for the Venus Rosewater Dish - tells you something of how Sharapova's world has changed since 2004.

Sharapova, who endorses the car manufacturer, arrived for the interview in a Boxster Spyder, though even a sports car transporting a former Wimbledon champion wasn't immune to the London traffic, and she was a few minutes late.

She claimed to be "a pretty safe driver", and has never been fined for speeding (not that it would be possible to speed around Berkeley Square during the evening rush-hour): "I'm quite cautious and I follow the speed limit pretty well. I've had some fines, though not for speeding, but for crossing the wrong lines, like double lines."

As an athlete and also as a serious commercial prospect and businesswoman, beating Serena Williams in the Wimbledon final launched Sharapova's career into the stratosphere. She would go on to achieve the career grand slam, with her victories at the 2006 U.S. Open, the 2008 Australian Open and the 2012 French Open (a tournament she won for the second time in 2014). And each year for the past decade, Forbes magazine has judged the Siberian to be the world's highest-earning female athlete, with a portfolio of sponsors.

Would her life, both on and off the court, be very different today if that first major hadn't come at such a young age and also on Wimbledon's Centre Court? "What made my Wimbledon victory unique was that I was so young, and around that time you didn't really see teenagers going into the second week of slams," said Sharapova. "So, being 17, that made it special. I don't think where it was, at Wimbledon, made it more special, just my age."

The thought of holding up the Venus Rosewater Dish again inspires Sharapova. Now 28 years old, can she win this tournament as an adult, as the fully-formed Sharapova? "I don't want to discriminate against the other grand slams - and say that I would choose a Wimbledon title over one of the others - but it would be incredible to hold that plate again.

"I've been very fortunate to have won all the grand slams, and if I could win Wimbledon again, it would be a dream for me. That's certainly something which I think of a lot when I'm training and I have to push myself. When I'm working hard, I'm thinking of that beautiful plate. It's definitely something that I have wished to hold again for many years."

Is Sharapova's game better suited to the Wimbledon grass than to the Roland Garros clay or the hard courts of the Australian and U.S. Opens? "I think in some ways, yes. I think everyone's game evolves in many different ways, and the conditions and the surface change, too.

"I find it a privilege to put myself in a situation where I can face someone like Serena Williams" Maria Sharapova

"Grass today isn't what grass was 10 or so years ago. The balls, the rackets, things change, and as they change so do the circumstances. Considering I had much better results on grass earlier on, at this point in my career, I guess it's a bit of a surprise that I have more titles from Roland Garros than from Wimbledon. My clay game really evolved in the middle of my career.

"But I'm not at the end of my career, so hopefully that number - how many grand slam titles I win here - will change. Wimbledon is a very special event for me, and I would love to win it more times."

There is another reason to spool back in time to discuss 2004 and that's because Sharapova hasn't beaten Williams for 11 years. Twice that year, Sharapova defeated Williams, in the Wimbledon final and then at the season-ending championships in Los Angeles. But not since.

When Williams trumped Sharapova in this year's Australian Open final, it took her winning run against the Russian to 16 matches. They have been placed in the same half of the draw, and so are projected to meet in the semi-finals.

"I find it a privilege to put myself in a situation where I can face someone like her," Sharapova said. "If I'm putting myself in that position, that means that I'm doing something well, and giving myself another chance to play against her. You have to be great at many things against her. You can't count on her mistakes. You have to count on your own ability.

"It's tough for me to compare different eras and to say that she is the greatest of all time as I wasn't part of those other eras. I wasn't around, for example, during the Steffi Graf era. So it's tough for me to say that. But while I've been playing, I think results speak for themselves."

This summer it's 30 years since Boris Becker won the men's tournament at the age of 17. Will we ever see another teenager winning a singles title at the All England Club? "You see many girls and boys in their late teens who are ready physically, though obviously they don't have the experience as they are transitioning from the junior circuit to the pros," Sharapova said. "But in terms of their ability and what they can do, they're covering a lot of ground already.

"Of course, it's possible for a teenager to win Wimbledon. I think anything is possible, I really do."