The far from open champion
Unstoppable: My Life So Far Maria Sharapova Particular Books £20 ★★★★★
This is a rarity among sporting autobiographies: a book that is best approached while wearing thermal gloves. Maria Sharapova has long been rumoured to be the ice queen of the tennis circuit, a woman who, the moment she walks in, sends a bone-freezing tumbleweed chill through any dressing room.
And here is confirmation. Our initial reaction when reading about the way she dispenses with rivals and boyfriends alike with the same bloodless dispatch might be to suggest that Sharapova is on the autism spectrum. Except that would be to insult those with autism.
Frankly, the Sharapova we meet in her book is so entirely lacking in anything that resembles compassion or fellow feeling that in the unlikely event she is ever invited round to your house, it would be wise to lock the knife drawer.
Take the way she recounts her relationship with her own father. She emigrated from Russia to the USA to play tennis when she was just five, her father working himself into the ground in order to pay for her advancement, always there, always supporting her.
Then, after more than 20 years together, she decided to call time on their professional relationship. Yes, she fired her own dad as her coach. And how did she do it? ‘I sent him
Or take her explanation of why she doesn’t mix with her fellow competitors. No point getting friendly, she writes, when you want to beat them. No point pretending to be sympathetic when your purpose is to stamp on their dreams. As for Serena Williams, the player she calls her main rival (which is an interesting description given that Williams has beaten her the last 19 times they have met), she says this: ‘Some day, when all this is in our past, maybe we’ll become friends. Or not.’
There is a lot we would like to know about what drives Sharapova. Like why she screams so loudly on court that pilots of planes passing over Wimbledon have been known to complain about the noise pollution. Or why she reckons the most insulting thing that has ever happened to her was when her opponent turned up wearing the same dress as her.
But there is no insight here. ‘You need to know everything,’ she writes in the introduction to the tale of her extraordinary rise from penniless Siberian moppet to four-time Grand Slam winner.
Instead we learn nothing, no hint of what is going on in her mind, no access to her
conscience, no suggestion she might have a functioning soul.
As for the drug-use that led to her being slapped with a 13-month competitive ban, it would be good to have a little more than simply: not my fault, I did nothing wrong beyond being a bit careless, it’s the authorities who were out to get me because I’m Russian.
Move along now, nothing to see, is the gist of what she writes on the subject. Which, frankly, is the best advice I could give you for her book.
Right: Maria Sharapova and her father Yuri in Florida, 1994