ICY MARIA

The far from open cham­pion

The Mail on Sunday - Event - - BOOKS -

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

an email.’

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

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