Transcripts > The Tim Ferriss Show > #261: Mental Performance, Work-Life Balance, and the Rise to the Top - Maria Sharapova
Hello, my little mogwais. This is Tim Ferris and welcome to another episode of the Tim Ferris Show where it is my job to distill, extract, deconstruct, the habits, routines, and tactics of world class performers of all different types. Whether they are billionaires, chess prodigies, elite athletes, or otherwise, and in this case we have elite athlete, Maria Sharapova.
Man oh man, did I have a lot of fun with this conversation. We got deep into the tactics of training and mental performance, mental toughness, and much, much more. You can find her on Facebook, Sharapova. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram @MariaSharapova. Who is Maria Sharapova? She is the winner of five grand slam titles and is an Olympic silver medalist, she is only one of a handful of players to hold all four Grand Slam titles including Wimbledon, US Open, Australian Open, and Roland Garros. She has held the world number one ranking for 21 weeks and has won 35 singles titles in her career.
Forbes also named her the highest paid female athlete of all-time in 2005. She’s now held that title for a record 11 years or 12 years, that is a long time. Maria garners worldwide press coverage on and off the court with a social media presence that includes 15.5, probably a lot more at this point, Facebook fans, more than 6.5 million Twitter followers, 2.7 million followers on Instagram, she serves as an ambassador to many of the world’s top luxury brands and a number of Fortune 500 companies including Porsche, Nike, Avian, and Head. In 2007, she became a good will ambassador for the United Nations Development Program, it’s UNDP, and has made significant contributions to Chernobyl related projects in her native country.
In 2012, Sharapova flexed her entrepreneurial muscles and debuted her eponymous couture candy collection, Sugarpova. Most recently, she is the author of a book titled, Unstoppable, My Life So Far. It describes her story in detail and was done in collaboration with an incredible writer named Rich Cohan, which we’ll get into, but a few things that we don’t get into, we don’t talk about meldonium, we don’t talk about the sponsors, we don’t talk about a handful of things that have been talked to death in the media, we dig into more the specifics that you can use, the specifics that will inspire you and also instruct you that you can apply.
So that was the focus and I really hope you enjoy this as much as I did, it was a blast and it inspired me in fact, among other things, to come to Florida, where I am right now, I have compression sleeve on my right arm. Why? Because I’m doing tennis camp, I’m doing an intense immersive tennis program at the Human Performance Institute with Jim Loehr, that’s L-O-E-H-R, and you should definitely check out the Human Performance Institute with Jim Loehr, it’s phenomenal. I’ve been playing my little heart out in tennis, which I’ve always wanted to do my entire life. For the last two days and I have few more days to go, but Maria really peaked my interest in this sport, which I had wanted to do for so, so long and put off. I realized you know, rather than doing jujitsu and all these things that break my body, the gentle art, maybe I should try something like tennis. Golf, not my speed, I’d rather just go for a hike, but tennis, yeah I like the sound of that and I like watching it, so even if just to get a better appreciation of the sport so that I can see the nuances and details when watching tennish on TV, tennish said Sean Connery, all right, I need to go have a drink and dinner, in any case, without further ado, please enjoy this wide ranging conversation with Maria Sharapova.
Maria, welcome to the show.
I am so thrilled that we were able to carve out time and I have so many questions. I will start with a rather simple one.
I’m sitting here drinking tea, I’m having a Charleston Breakfast tea, and I have heard that you also enjoy tea, is that true and if so-
… what type of tea do you prefer, what are your go-to teas?
So I grew up in Russia where tea… it’s a big part of our culture is drinking tea in the afternoons with your grandparents. I drank black tea, a darjeeling type of tea. That was made in the mountains in Siberia. I would have it with raspberry jam that my grandmother would make.
That sounds amazing, so would you put the jam on a piece of toast and have it or-
No, I actually, I put it in my tea. I still do that and people look at me very strangely and suspiciously. I get it, but just so many memories of my childhood, and yeah I do that instead of sugar, which is pretty much the same thing, but …
It allows you-
It’s a little messier.
It gives you permission. You mentioned Siberia, which is where I want to go next, you were born in Siberia, as I understand it-
… but your mother was pregnant with you while in Chernobyl.
Could you explain what happened exactly?
My parents were from Gomel, it was a very small town, very close to where the Chernobyl reactor blew up and during that time just before my mother was pregnant with me in 1986, and they fled. There is not a lot of information about what happened during Chernobyl, my grandparents were living in Siberia at the time, from my mom’s side, and they said you need to get out of there. They were able to get more information about the disaster itself than my parents were able to get being so close to the area and they left, and that’s why I was born in Siberia.
Your family fled to I guess well Russia right after the explosion …
But you ended up in I guess a warmer place, or at least depending on the season.
Yes, much warmer. Yes, when we were about two, my parents realized well this is not going to work out over here, and they moved to a resort town Sochi where they just had the winter Olympics. I mean I still consider it one of the most beautiful places to visit because you have the Black Sea and you have the palm trees in the summer and just an hour away you have these mountains where the Olympics where held and some of the best skiing in the world. My dad still skies there all the time. I definitely, it’s one of the most peaceful places as well.
If I go to Russia, I’ve never visited Russia, I’ve always wanted to, are there one or two places that I absolutely must visit in your mind? Are there any particular things that I cannot miss? I know it’s a gigantic place.
Right, I would say skip Siberia. There’s definitely not much to see or do over there, but I think from a cultural standpoint, I would definitely visit Saint Petersburg, and it’s still a place that I’ve never been to if you can believe it or not, and as much as I’ve traveled around the world, but my mom goes almost every year. A lot of my relatives are there, and I just have this enormous respect for the cultural and just the city and the people and they way they live. It’s very different. People always ask me as I was born in Russia and I spent the first seven years of my life there and I’ve in the United States ever since, and you know I’ve never really looked back into living in Russia, but so much of my heart still remains there and obviously all of my grandparents and my cousins all still live there, so it’s very big part of my life.
When people ask me what I think about the country, as much as I want to have an opinion, it is so large and it is so vast and there’s so many opinions you can have about it, and I really just want to let people experience on their own and come to their own conclusions because I think that’s one of the greatest things of travel, is to not have expectations, and to get there and to experience a new place. Saint Petersburg is on my list, and that’s definitely a city that comes highly recommended.
Why have you not been there? I mean, maybe it’s something like me growing up in New York, I had never ever visited the Empire State Building or the Statue of Liberty until a friend from Germany visited. Is it like that or is there another reason?
It’s because of my schedule, it’s so, I mean I compete 10 months out of the year and it is, I pretty much go to the same cities every year because the tournaments are all situated in those same cities. When I have a holiday break, which usually consists of a couple weeks only, in November, I go somewhere warm, I just escape. You know I put my phone away, I put just everything on hold a little bit and just let my body and my mind recover and it just never has been, never has come into yeah, into my schedule.
Can you tell the story of how you were first found, as it were, as it relates to tennis?
Yes, so Sochi, in the summer it was very much a happening place. There was a scene and there was a lot of people were coming there on vacation so we had a lot of little parks and outdoor tennis courts and ferris wheels and all these types of attractions. My father, who was not a great athlete, but he played hockey in school, he enjoyed playing tennis, he was not very good at all. Did it for fun. When I was old enough to go with him … My mother had me when she was very young. She was only 20 years old, so she was still studying at the time, so on weekdays when my father didn’t have to work, he would take me with him to the local park. I would just follow along. We would take the public bus to the courts, and I’d just sit there and I’d watch him just grind it out with a competitor of his.
And then I’d see all these little kids playing on the side, and they were just hitting balls against the wall. I didn’t have a racket of my own, and the one that I was able to get was so much bigger than myself, so that didn’t really work out, but immediately something drew me to it, something drew me to this like repetitiveness of seeing these kids try to hit the ball against the strings of the racket and see it come back from the wall. It was very fascinating. I had this immediate feeling of I want to be in front of those kids, and I want to show them how it’s done. Even though I had no idea what I was doing, so I think that competitiveness kind of developed then where I was just sitting bored and watching my father play, I just wanted to be out there.
Was it a feeling that you could do it more correctly and just something that you intuited, that you feel intuitively, or was it because you noticed flaws in their technique or things that they were missing? I’m always curious about this because one of my closet friends, his name is Josh Waitzkin, and the book and the movie Searching for Bobby Fischer were based on him. He’s thought of as a chess prodigy, and he had this experience very, very early on with chess. Of course, it might be difficult to recall what was going through your head at the time, but can you elaborate at all?
I think from my perspective when you’re that young and when you don’t know anything about that particular activity or that sport, and it was tennis in that moment, it was really this like question of can I do that? I see all all these kids doing it. Do I have the ability to be better than them? After observing so much of what my father was doing, just not on any professional level at all, it just came to my mind that I wanted to do it, and I wanted to do it better. I think there’s times in life where things come instinctually, and you just grasp it and you notice it, and I think my father definitely noticed.
I could have kept sitting on that bench, and I could have kept watching my father, but there was something in me that said no, I want to be out there, I want to be playing, and I want to be competing, and I want to be learning. When I got myself out to the wall where all the kids were hitting the ball against, I remember a coach … there’s one coach there … and all the locals were, all the children were going to see him, all the parents wanted him to tell them that they’re going to be future stars. They’re going to be the next Pete Sampras or the next Andre Agassi. And he noticed me, and only after a couple of weeks when I was playing. He pulled my father aside and said, “This girl can play tennis.”
After that I started taking lessons with him, and a couple of years after that, there was an exhibition that Martina Navratilova was a part of. I was about five and a half years old at that time. The exhibition was being held in Moscow. So my father and I went to Moscow, and I was probably one out of 200 kids in that clinic that she was holding for these kids. After hitting a few balls, I noticed that she had come up to my father, and I don’t quite know in what language they spoke because my father didn’t speak any English, and I’m pretty sure she didn’t have much Russian, but between the two and after she left, I spoke to my father and he said, “Well this legend, Martina Navratilova, just came up to me and said that you’re talented.” And this was only after her watching me hit a couple of balls in the midst of so many other kids.
I look back at that, and I … because I see so many kids now. I practice at a country club and there’s all these … Just today, I was practicing next to two little girls. They were probably seven or eight years old, just enjoying the game by themselves and kind of trying to hit the ball over the net. It’s hard to envision that talent. It’s hard to see it. So for her to be able to see that when I was only five and a half years old was pretty incredible.
Do you have any idea if either of the first coach or Martina later told you what they saw? Have you any idea what it was they picked up on?
I haven’t spoken to Martina about it too much, but the first coach that I had in Sochi when I had just started playing … he unfortunately passed away a few years ago … but I definitely had this tenacity and I had this will of focus at a young age. Tennis is a very repetitive sport, so it’s grinding, it’s just hitting the ball and when you’re that young, your concentration and focus is just all over the place. You play with the ball for a few minutes, and then you want to play with a truck, or you want to play with a doll, and the consistency in your mind is very limited. At least that’s what when I observe kids which is completely normal, but I had this fascination with being able to hit the ball and seeing somebody else hit it back at me, and trying to find a way … and the racket that I first had was actually … We had to cut the grip by four or five inches because it was so much bigger than I was, and I could barely hold it, and it was so heavy.
So it’s just this really funny scene of me trying to figure out how to … because when you’re just given a ball and a racket, like what do I do with this now? So I just picture myself, they’re just trying to find a way to get the ball over the net. I had this determination of doing it better and better every day, and I stuck to it. It was never … I don’t remember one day where I didn’t want to go down the steps of our apartment and walk the 20 minutes uphill to get to the bus station, and then have to change buses at the next station. There’s never a day where I said, you know, I don’t want to do it. And I think that’s not something that you can really teach or that you could develop it, but I think I just really loved it, and I carry that passion.
This idea that you were able to hold constant in your mind, this fascination of tennis and practice consistently, as context for myself, what did your dad do for work, and you mentioned your mother was studying … What was she studying? If you could tell us a little bit about them.
She was studying communications and business, and I had a very interesting childhood because my parents were both … They were very young and they had no knowledge what to do. I was the first child. I’m still the only child, but they were very careful of the decisions they made and where I was going to go, and if I was going to go to kindergarten and how long they wanted me to be there. I spent so many hours in the library with my mother while she was doing her homework, where she was studying for an exam. Then I’d go with my father when he’d leisurely play tennis. My father worked in construction in a fairly normal job. I would say we were an average family getting support from both of our grandparents, from my mom’s and my dad’s side, and we lived a very basic and at that time a very normal life.
Did they expose you to a lot of other things besides tennis, and some things you had zero interest in, and you had that kid-like distraction or ADHD-like inability to focus or jumpy focus, and then tennis was the one thing that you gravitated towards and really locked onto? Or were you like that with everything?
Well, it happened so fast and because I had only started picking up the tennis racket when I was four years old, at the age of six and a half, I was already on an Aeroflot flight to America, so …
Right, so you didn’t have a lot of time to test things out.
To be honest, there wasn’t much time to really test other things. I loved to play with dolls, I loved to play doctor, I loved to read. My mother was very much into education and she didn’t want anything to do with tennis, she didn’t want anything to do with sports. She danced ballet a little bit, and she brought a lot of the cultural, the educational, the learning and the growing in your mind experiences to me. I mean she would read passages in novels that I was way too young to understand, but she made me memorize a lot of those passage. Something about that, that repetitiveness, I never liked to do it, but it was a sense of discipline that she taught me in a way that had nothing to do with sport, and I think that I really … I mean I would spend an hour in the evening just memorizing these poems by Prushkin and thinking to myself, “When am I ever going to use this.” And what do you know with years, and especially now that I’m older, discipline doesn’t always come so easy. You have to build its foundations and you have to build the trust with the people that help you with it.
I think her influence and her ability to acknowledge that as a young mom was so inspirational and that that discipline really comes into play as a tennis player because you have to have so much of it. I mean there’s sacrifice and there is bearing the long days, but the discipline that you have to carry on with, whether it’s a good day or a bad day, just beats everything else.
I got chills about 47 seconds ago because… I’m looking at the time… because I found what I was digging for. I wasn’t looking for any particular answer, but I want to just underscore a few things that you said for people who might be parents. Because of the 250-plus interviews that I’ve done for this podcast, there are a couple of patterns that have emerged in people who’ve become really, really, really good at something really early and, ultimately, really mastered anything, even if it’s at age 10, 15, 20.
The first is, that I’ve noticed, and it’s not for everyone, but their parents talk to them, at least part of the time, about subject matter above their heads, so to speak, or as adults. Number two is a lot of exposure to books. Number three was what you brought up and this is what I got excited about, which is developing a tolerance for repetition and, in some cases, for that type of I’m not going to say boredom, but lack of variety in some capacity. Because I think that that, like you said, you’re training that so that it can then be applied to other things. You might say, “Why am I memorizing these poems because I’m never going to use these poems,” but at the same time, you’re developing the ability to tolerate the thousands of hours that you’re going to put into hitting a ball against a wall.
Yes, and it’s the persistence that you’re building. It’s the will that when … I mean I believe in any job that we do, any work that we have in front of us, there is a lot of moments that we look forward to. There are projects that we love and that we want to be a part of. But then, there is the tedious work, there’s the things that the repetition as a tennis player where you have to just … where it’s all numbers and where it’s just a feeling that you get to a certain number and you just feel it and you let go and you don’t think and that’s time. You could say, “I don’t want to do it. I want to stop. I don’t want you feeding me any more balls,” but that mental persistence I do think you can develop earlier. I certainly was able to with the help of my mother and also, I mean when you’re young, and she was a very young parent and know with the help of her mother.
Also culturally, I would say 30 years ago or 25 years ago, it was very different. I felt like I was in her cocoon and I was grown up in her hands, which also, I think, explains the bond that we have today and the friendship that we were able to have from that. I think that’s one of the most important things in my life. As I travel around the world today and I meet a lot of young girls and boys, whether they play tennis or not, and I hear their stories, and so much of their experiences is a very tough and rough childhood where they almost want to escape from what they knew as their family, and so sad personally because the experience that I had in my childhood and it was not…. I’m not saying it was all butterflies and rainbows, but as I look back at that experience and how they were handling that situation, how they were sacrificing so much for myself, created this bond within my family that was very important, and it’s priceless. I know that those are not the people that we are able to choose in our life, but they are the people that know us the best, and that relationship can do many wonders in your life.
Because I feel like your mom is such an important figure in your relationship, I noticed that you’ve been reading memoirs written by women, and feel free to correct anything I get wrong, but most notably Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton …
… and you called them, “Very strong, tough, emotional books.” What did those two books mean to you? Why were they tough and emotional, and what did you take away from them?
I get very inspired by women. I get very inspired by their brain, by their actions, by their toughness. I think in today’s world and in today’s working environment and I’ve faced this a lot in my sport where I could be going into a press conference six times in a week and I’m faced with equality questions. You almost have your back against the wall so many times and you have to explain yourself and you feel that you’ve done it so many times and …
Can you explain that just for a second, in terms of explaining yourself or equality questions? Would you tell us a little bit more about that?
I mean equality has been a big subject in women’s tennis for many, many years, and Venus Williams and Serena herself have done an incredible job of getting to where we are today with the helps of the pioneer Billie Jean King, is the reason why we make such an incredible living from what we do.
The one thing that we as professional athletes have to realize is we’re not only fighting to win a tennis match. We’re also fighting to be an example. We’re fighting for our voice. We’re fighting to have a pedestal, to create that pedestal, and to raise awareness of how incredible and how difficult and how each path is so unique and personal, and how we’re all able to come through it, how we are able to share our stories, how we’re able to inspire other people, and not just women. It’s women and men as well. Do we get enough credit for it? I don’t believe so. When I say that that’s what we have to explain, I believe that that’s … that’s the feeling that I have, at least, and I don’t feel that we have the amount of support that we should be having.
I was having a conversation with a very learned man, I guess would be the easiest way to put it, today and asking him for advice on a few things, and he said that to help the greatest number of people become an example. In other words, you don’t have to work hand-in-hand with each individual person, but if you have the visibility and exposure as you do to become an example of potential, I think that’s extremely important. But I had very unusual beginnings, all of this, in many respects, right …
… and you ended up at a very young age at the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy in the US, which has produced, you mentioned, the Williams Sisters, Andrei Agassi, Boris Becker. How did you end up there, and could you tell us a bit about the coaching methodology? Because that’s always what I’m just so endlessly fascinated by.
I think my father’s point of view, after that children’s clinic that Martina Navratilova held was that tennis was not a big sport at that time in Russia. We didn’t have many champions coming out of the country. I believe at the time it was Yevgeny Kafelnikov and Anna Kournikova, but other than that, it was hockey, it was figure skating. It was all the Winter Olympics sports and I mean, one, it was very expensive to find the right coaches, to find the right facilities, especially in the wintertime, so the only real option was America.
My father started reading books and studying the game. He knew that he wasn’t a tennis coach and he knew that he wasn’t a great tennis player and the smart, I would say one of the biggest gifts that my father gave me and it started from a very young age, was that he realized that he wasn’t the one that was going to be my main coach. He wasn’t the one that knew everything or believed to know everything. He wanted to get the help from others. He started doing research and next thing I knew, just before my seventh birthday, I was on a flight to Miami, Florida. From there, we made this crazy bus journey four hours north to the Bollettieri Academy in Bradenton, Florida, which has, as you just mentioned, so many of the stars, past and present and future at the moment. It’s really a factory. This tennis factory that’s grown into other sports as well, but at the time it was very tennis-specific.
Nick Bollettieri was someone that came with a lot of experience and coaching experience. He as a person was a mentor to me, more than anything, with the guidance, with this experience of seeing so many people come in and out. So many people come in wanting to be champions turned into good. Some people come in they turn into great and some just turn into champions and he’s seen it all. So knocking at the door of Nick Bollettieri Academy in the dead of the night, was probably one of the toughest moments in that journey and it really began there. And they told us it was a little too late or a little too early to be knocking at an Academy door, so they sent us to a hotel and we ended up coming back in the morning and they put me in a group of kids with probably six or seven kids and an instructor watched me hit a few balls and called over Nick Bollettieri and said, you have to see this girl play. And then Nick saw me play and that’s kind of where it took off.
And what makes that place so special? And I ask because I always wonder, I mean in the beginning there must have been something special in the sauce because there comes a point when the best in the world gravitate to your center if you’ve produced a lot of champions. So then, there’s a question of, is it created or is it selection bias, but what makes that place unique in terms of training in terms of principals or anything that makes it stand apart?
Yeah, that’s a great question because I see it in two different ways. And from a positive view I saw it and I still see it as, first of all, it’s located in a place where there’s nothing else to do. So you are going there to be committed to become a tennis player or another sport that you might be practicing over there. You have no distractions.
The second greatest thing about it, is the amount of kids that were there that were older than I was, against whom I was able to compete. And so every afternoon, six days a week, I would play matches against them and I would play sets and it was the best learning experience because creating that understanding, what you do and who you are as a tennis player and those mechanics, the basics, the mind, the brain of setting up the neck shot before you even hit it. That knowledge you get by playing and so I had this opportunity, I’d play a kid from China, I’d play a kid from Europe that were … I was most likely, not most likely, I was one of the youngest ones at the Academy. At one point I wasn’t even allowed to board there because I was so young.
And so I had this incredible experience of coming in terms of competition, of seeing someone across the net that was two feet higher than I was, that was stronger than I was, and I had to figure out how to beat them if I wanted to have my self-esteem or be confident or be a better player.
And the other great thing was that Nick himself, he knew what to say and he knew when to say it. And I think you can be a great coach, and I’ve had many throughout my career, but they’re not really good business people. And Nick understood that you only need just a handful, maybe a couple or a few players that could really make the Academy what it is. And you know, I boarded with eight other girls for a long period of time and they weren’t excited to be there. They knew that that wasn’t their future. They sometimes didn’t even know if that was their college future. But the money that was going into that Academy because of why they were there and practicing and competing was the reason why Nick Bollettieri was so smart. And when you needed him, he was there. I mean, 5:00 a.m. he’s there on the courts. He’s the one that locks the place until this day, and that dedication and that love and passion for what you do, I mean, it’s incredible.
I just saw him a few months ago, I spent a few weeks there training for part of my comeback and he was out every single day. He’d come out for a few minutes, he’d sit down next to me. He’d speak to me like I was 10 years old again and he’s the same Nick as he was. It’s so rare, it’s really rare to see that. And I go there for the same reasons. I go there because of the atmosphere because you see other athletes and it doesn’t matter if they’re in college, if they’re young, if they’re not gonna make it. Just to be in the environment of everyone training with a purpose, it makes you better. It makes you … I love playing in front of little crowd would kind of get around the court that I was practicing on, and since I hadn’t been in competition for a long period of time, it was so great to just have people huddle around the court and watch my every move. And I felt that adrenaline again because usually in between tournaments I like to practice where it’s a little bit more private and a little quiet because at a tournament, it’s a zoo. I always compare it to being in a cage of a zoo where everyone’s around you and taking your picture and sort of no escape until someone just kind of takes you out on a golf cart and away you go.
And so when I’m home, whether it’s in Florida or California, I just love the stillness and the quietness of just being on my own. I don’t have a court, but I go to a country club and I practice on a corner or I train at a private court as well. And just have your peace and quiet a little bit. Just to have your mind only see your team and the members of your team and then do your work and leave. But being there for that period of time brought back to many memories.
So a few things, number one, Nick, I’m sorry, I always mispronounce your name anytime I try to say it. I always … I think part of my spirit wants to be Italian so I try to really throw a spin on it and say Bollettieri. But I always make that mistake.
You know, he would love that. If you said Bollettieri, he would love that. He goes to this little Italian restaurant every single day of the week, so he would absolutely appreciate that.
Oh fantastic. Alright, well then, you’re welcome Nick. Not, I’m sorry.
And the next question is related to your experience early on. You mentioned that you had these giants across the net. Meanwhile you’re this tiny kid holding this gigantic broad sword basically because it’s so big compared to your body. I’ve heard that you had some experience being teased when you arrived in the U.S.
And I’d love to hear you talk about that. If any particular examples come to mind and just talk about what effect it had on you. Because what I have just been mesmerized, it might sound weird so don’t take it as being creepy, but just like focused on when I watch you play and compete, is just the toughness. And you mentioned the grinding and just the toughness that I see is something that I’d like to explore. So could you talk about the teasing when you got to the U.S.
I very much felt like I was an outcast from the beginning. And one of the reasons was because I had arrived in America with my father and our story just didn’t make sense to anyone. So from the very beginning, everyone just assumed we were crazy, which if I look at that now, yes, we were absolutely. My parents decision was crazy. The fact that we come to America and you have this seven year old girl with a dream to become a tennis player, that’s never gonna work out.
And so I sensed that. I felt that. I felt that I was different. I always felt like I was there on a different mission and because I was one of the youngest ones, I never had the same interests as the other girls and I always knew that my interest and my passion was very different to theirs. And while I boarded at the Academy, I remember coming back from practice and my little locker would be open and the only thing I had in that locker was this giant jar of little animal crackers and-
The fuel of champions.
Right. Which by the diet these days has changed tremendously. I don’t even know where to look with what new diet is coming out next. But back then I just remember that giant jar of animal crackers that I believe a friend from the Academy gave me for my birthday, and that’s the only thing I had in that locker. And I didn’t have many belongings. I didn’t have a lot of outfits or skirts that the girls had. I didn’t really have anyone to do my hair or braid my hair. You know, my father would sit me down on a chair and just cut my bangs straight across and they never looked great, obviously he didn’t know what he was doing.
And so I was always a little off. I didn’t speak English in the beginning. I was learning through just speaking with all the other kids because they talked so much you just pick it up and you learn. And it just made me feel very much alone. Not that I didn’t have … It felt like I had a lot in common because we were all there to play tennis. But the mission that I was on, and I felt like I was, was very different.
And it wasn’t that I had to be a champion or I didn’t have to be a champion. It was that I was learning and I was growing to be a better tennis player. And I didn’t know where that would take me, but I knew that in order to get there, I had to wake up at 6:00 a.m. and I had to practice for the day and then I would take a 30 minute nap from 12 to 12:30 and at 1:00 p.m., I’d be back playing matches and sets until 4 or 5. And then I had a little bit of homework and then I have to do it again. And so there was a lot of other interests that the girls had, and then posters, and glitter, and pictures, and David Hasselhoff, Janet Jackson, and I had no clue who anyone of those was at the time. And so, I was just a stranger. I was sort of in my own little bubble from a very young age. And…
I look back on those moments and I’ve gotten that question a lot like, “How did you feel? Did you feel lonely?” And one of the other things was that I didn’t go to America with my mother, because she didn’t have a visa. So I spent the first two years in America without seeing my mom at all.
And I look back at that time, and there’s nothing about it that … It’s sad. It obviously was very sad to not have that support, and not have your mother cut your bangs instead of your father. Or him buy you shoes that are so ugly, and you can’t … You don’t know how to tell him, but he doesn’t have enough money to buy you a better pair. So, you just keep your mouth just.
It just, it didn’t feel like we were doing the wrong thing. I felt like I was on this path that I was meant to be on, and I didn’t feel lonely. I didn’t feel sad. It was a lonely time, because I look at that, and of course I was an outcast. But when you’re on a mission to do something, or be something, and it’s not so much about success.
I think it’s just we always think of having a vision, and of course we have goals, and we plant them in our minds. But I never remember one time where my father told me that I had to win Wimbledon, or that I had to win the US Open. He never made me feel if I didn’t, that the world would end.
And I always remember thinking that if this doesn’t work out, we would go to Russia, and that’s absolutely fine. ‘Cause I felt like I had a completely normal childhood when I was living there.
Did you feel any pressure in the sense … Not from your parents directly, but in the recognition of what they were sacrificing for you to take a stab at tennis, or was that just not a factor at all?
Whatever they did, they never made me feel like it was. And I think that’s one of the reasons why I never felt the pressure of having to win things, or having to earn money. I knew that I didn’t know how much money I could earn. I was never really interested in that. I didn’t know anything that would come with being successful … With being a successful tennis player.
And you never really do, and I think that’s one of the great things in life, is that you don’t know. And that it’s an experience, and it’s for you to experience, and for you to acknowledge, and for you to learn from it. And whether you want to take it or not, that’s up to you. It’s in your own hands.
But the fact that they gave me this opportunity to create a life for myself is incredible. And now my father remained kind of the leader, and the coach of my tennis until I was 21 years old. He traveled with me to every single tournament, and after I won my third grand slam it was very mutually he decided to stop, and now he’s on a permanent vacation.
And he thinks he’s training for the senior Olympics, and he loves to ski, and hike, and do all those great things, and I’m so happy, and it makes me just incredibly grateful that I can support that. And that I can do that for my mom. That I can do that for my dad. That they, for my extended family, and they’re the reason why I’m able to do that.
Is it true that you’ve never used the word “rejection”? Or that you don’t believe in that word, is that true?
Well I don’t … I mean it’s a very tough word to believe in. It’s a very tough word to accept. I think one of the reasons is because I saw in many different scenarios where my father would say no, because he would open up an opportunity to say yes. And …
Could you … Okay, please explain…
So there are many situations whether it was a coaching opportunity, or whether it was receiving money from an agency. He had this ability to say no to the things that seemed like they made sense. The easy way out, because he believed that later he’d have a better opportunity to say yes-
To bigger, and greater things.
Right, so he said no to the small shiny objects? And from-
Well at the time I’m sure they didn’t seem so small-
Not small. I don’t mean at the time in perception-
But the short term shiny objects maybe.
Right, so rejection it wasn’t … There was never … ‘Cause I always, I mean I always was following kind of next to my father, and seeing the decisions that he would make. And I was only a kid, and even when I won Wimbledon I was only 17 years old. You’re still a kid, and you’re still following the guidance, and I’d win a match following then I’d call it …
Or I’d win a tournament, and I would go shopping in a store, and I would call my mom ‘cause there was something quite pricey, and I didn’t know if I could buy it. So I was still asking permission, even though I had earned that money. If I could purchase a piece of jewelry, or shoes, or whatever it was at the time that I wanted.
So, I was always watching, and observing, and they never … Rejection, I mean you’re of course when someone says no to you, it’s easy to say, “Oh yes, I was rejected.” But if you can open up a different opportunity from that point of view, then you’re turning a no into something that brought you to a better place.
Sounds like you did that with your interactions with some of the other players who were boarding at Nick’s Tennis Academy in a way.
Do you consider yourself an introvert, an extrovert, a blend? How do you think about that?
I think from a very young age, because of sort of the process that I went through, and the success that I earned from a young age. And winning a major, and a grand slam at such a young age, and because it became so unexpected I went from being someone that was … Someone that people scouted to being someone that everyone had analyzed, and knew about, and wanted to know more of.
And I created this … I definitely put on these horse blinders, because if I had not, my mind would have been everywhere. And I think it would have been so easy to be distracted in those moments, and situations, and be pulled in different directions, which it’s a slippery slope. It’s very dangerous, and as a young girl it could have been a disaster to say the least.
And so, I definitely remember the moment, and it was just a few matches before I won Wimbledon, where I was sitting down with my coach, and all of a sudden … I think it was before the semi-finals of that tournament, and all these tourists who had gotten credentials … They seemed like tourists, I didn’t know who they were.
Maybe they weren’t. Maybe they were important agents, or sponsors, but at the time they just seemed like tourists that all wanted a picture with me. And it really came over night, and that sense of, “Wow, everyone all of a sudden wants something.” Everyone wants something that you have. Everyone wants to be a part of your success.
I didn’t like that feeling. I loved the feeling of being in a position of showcasing what I could do with my tennis racket. But that feeling of everyone wanting a piece of that, and the feeling of your opponents all of a sudden feeling just by beating her, they’re not just winning a quarter final of the final of the match. But they’re winning so much more.
It made me feel like I needed to kind of put myself in a bubble. To concentrate, to focus. That it was gonna be that much harder, that much more difficult, and I did. And I don’t know if I could have done it another way.
What are some of the best practices, or decisions that have helped you with that? Because for instance my friend Josh, I was mentioning earlier, who became well known effectively overnight. Particularly with the movie about his life for chess, he could no longer compete effectively after that.
Because he would go to a chess tournament, and there would be … I’m making up the age, but he’s something like 13 or 14, and all of a sudden there’re 20 girls who want his attention. And a bunch of reporters, and he removed himself completely from the competitive scene. He’s one of the most private people I know at this point. So what helped you? What kind of decisions, or advice, or practices?
I think it was surrounding myself with good minds, and good people that had my best interest. And it’s so easy to say those words, but I know how difficult it is to find those people. And even harder nowadays than it was, and I saw it in so many different examples of other tennis players, and of their success and their paths after that, and the people that you all of a sudden associate yourself with. I think as an individual, it’s very easy to be affected by the voices that are next to you, because we listen to that and we process that information, and all of a sudden we … I wouldn’t say we want to be like them. We interpret it in our way, but when I read a funny book, all of a sudden I feel like I’m a comedian or when I watch an incredible acting by someone, it inspires me to be an actor. You know? There’s moments of this that happens. As an athlete, you surround yourself with people’s opinions or choices or money and wealth, and it’s very … It’s such an easy distraction.
I surrounded myself with good people, and the friends that I have today were my friends when I was a young girl. My manager has managed me since I was 11 years old. My mom is still very much my best friend, and other really good friend of mine, I met when I was 11 years old as well. I have this fondness of developing these real connections with people. I think it was so helpful for me as a young girl, because I competed in front of thousands of people and I still do. The walk to the tunnel and the walk to a press conference, and the walk back in the hotel room, it’s a very lonely journey. It’s a difficult … You’re in your mind a lot, and you’re thinking a lot. So, when you have voices next to you that are the right voices, then it’s so helpful. But I know how hard it is to find. But I do believe that that is a big part of my success.
I have some public exposure, and have found … I’ve made a lot of mistakes, and I found it really difficult to identify in some cases what ulterior motives are, or if people start doing me tons of favors, I now realize there might be something coming six months later. So I’m very hesitant to accept favors. I can’t even imagine the level. I mean, I’m playing T-ball and you’re in the major leagues in the world series when it comes to-
That’s not true.
… how many people want a piece of you. How do you, for instance, assess someone if, you say, have coffee or lunch with them? What do you look out for or look for? How do you decide whether it’s someone you want to see a second time or talk to a second time? If anything comes to mind, and this is just because quite frankly, you’ve had a lot more practice.
You have a lot of requests.
No, you’ve have a lot more practice than I have.
I saw that you held back, you said, I was like whoa. About automatic reply. I was like, oh my goodness. I don’t know who’s emailing you.
I’m afraid I have 4091 unread email in my inbox currently.
Oh my goodness.
Yeah, it was released into the wild.
I can’t do that, I need to keep my inbox clean. Then I feel like I have a mess in my head.
Well, we’ll talk about that next, but in the meantime …
So. How do I choose … I think it’s about … I love meeting people and I love having conversation, and I love being inspired. You can get so much out of a conversation or about … by exposing yourself to being in an unfamiliar territory. With people, and I’ll give you an example that was, it felt like it’s was important. I’m always around the same people, so I have my team, which is my coach and my fitness coach and my trainer. We travel, I see them more than my family. We travel probably 260 days out of the year today. Breakfast, lunch, dinners, practice, training. We know so much of each other and then you have a manager and then you come home and then you have your friends, so I’m always surrounded by people that I know and that I trust and that I love, which is incredible.
But I always think that as a human being and from a perspective of the mind and growth and intellectually, when you’re put in a situation where you’re unfamiliar with people and you’re unfamiliar with their stories or who they are, and you have to ask questions, and to get that out, it makes you a much more interesting person. Last year, I put myself in this position where I had all this time off, and it was during the summer. I signed up for these two business courses in Boston, at Harvard Business School. I was one out of the 40 students, I believe, in each of these courses. I stayed on campus and these were individuals who were CEOs and COOs of companies of airlines, of Microsoft, of all these incredible brands. I was by far the youngest, and probably the silliest and the least knowledgeable one in the room. But just by being with them, just by sitting with them, just by sitting with them at dinner, by asking them questions, by feeling a little bit uncomfortable, I felt like at the end of those three weeks, I grew and I grew.
It wasn’t that … I mean, there were definitely things that I learned that I’m applying and that I wanted to apply in my business. But the biggest thing that I got out of it was that I grew as a person. I became familiar in a very unfamiliar territory. I still keep in touch with people in the classes. We have completely different lives. They’re CEOs of companies, they have three or four kids. They travel all over the place, and here I am, a 30 year old athlete. But there’s so much respect in that room, because we’re all trying to learn and to grow.
So when you asked me, who are the people that you want to meet with or speak to or have a coffee with, I always think of that. The people that I choose to be with are the people that I want to learn from and that I want to have a conversation with and not just about what they bought at the flea market or how they like their coffee, but it’s about the world and it’s about education, it’s about people, and it’s not about right or wrong. I don’t always have conversation because I want to know what makes someone perfect and not … I like to hear opinions.
I got out of that experience in Boston and I felt like I grew. I felt like stepped up and I got out of my comfort zone, and I followed up with them, and we still keep in touch about business and projects and things like that. It was a very interesting experience, personally, for me.
What I like about your answer, and what I think is healthy for me to hear, quite frankly, is that I framed the question by focusing on what to cut out. How do you avoid this, how do you find red flags for that? What do you look for slash slash ulterior motive, fill in the blank, and somebody said to me two days ago that that is a very male way of approaching, trying to solve problems. To find the cancer and cut it out, to remove it, to cut it off.
The way you answered the question was you didn’t explicitly say this, but here’s how I choose who to spend time with, not here’s how I decide who do I avoid?
By no means does that come with guarantees that you’re not going to be disappointed at the end of it, or that they’re going to want something from you that you weren’t expecting.
But you do, in order to have … You have to put yourself in a position to find out.
What’s the worst thing that could happen from it? You don’t reply or you don’t answer or you don’t get back to them. Okay.
Right. Right, it’s an acceptable cost or tax to pay. So, the reframing that you just did, this is for me right now in my life, the really important stuff. I suspect this is true for a lot of folks. I’d love to switch gears a little bit and just ask you about self-talk. So what you are saying to yourself, and I’ll choose something very specific. When you are in a competitive situation, if you look back at your competitive career up to this point, when you’ve been down and then come back to win, versus when you’ve been down and then lost, how does your self-talk differ? Can you think of any examples? Are there certain things that you repeat to yourself consistently when you come back and win versus maybe things you forget to say, or ways that you slip up when you end up losing? Is there any pattern to that or consistency?
I wouldn’t say there’s a pattern, because every … What’s great about the sport that I play and the situations that I’m in is that they’re all very unique, and that’s what makes it so exciting to do this after so many years and after being this child prodigy. When I think of the motivation that I’m able to have till this day, and until that fire is burning, I’ll always keep playing. But that’s the unique part of it, is that every day is different. Every match is different. You might be confident. You might be ready. You might be healthy, but you never know what’s going to happen. I’m someone that loves certainty. I love certainty in my life, and I do enjoy having a plan, but that’s not realistic. There’s so much uncertainty in what I do, so I know that I can prepare my best. I know that I can prepare my body, I can prepare my mind, but in any situation that I’m in it’s always different and you have to react to it differently.
It doesn’t always go according to plan and I don’t always find myself being positive, but something that I notice in my mind … Actually, in the last match I played, and it was in a match where I got injured at the end of it and had to … Actually, I was up in the third set in Rome, and I came into the match being a little bit upset. I was down just for other reasons.
The framework that I had in my mind was that … It was something along the words of, “I can’t. I can’t. I can’t. I’m not able to. I don’t feel well. I’m not there. My mind is not present,” and the second that I changed that and I changed it to, “I will,” and I kept saying to myself, “I will win the match, and I will win the match,” it was like … The instant I remember being down a break point and automatically there was something in my body language where my mind, just the repetition of what I was saying to myself, it just triggered my body. I became more aggressive. I stepped into the court. I took her second serve and I hit a winner, and from that point, it changed.
The end of the match I was up I believe it was two, zero or something. I tore a muscle in my hip and I had to give her the match, but I noticed this crazy change, which I don’t really notice as much. It was amazing that it just came. This is a question that you just phrased, but it was the last match that I had played. It happens a lot. I do take my time in between. In my service games, I walk to the baseline. I move my strings around. I do a little pep talk and it’s very automatic. I wouldn’t say it’s something crazy or something-
No, it doesn’t have to be crazy.
Yeah, something that…
What is the pep talk?
I think it’s more of putting my eye onto my strings and having this repetition that it doesn’t matter if I won the point or lost the point, but I’m just on this level that I’m on this path. That I’m on this river that is going to get to where it’s going. No matter what rock is in the way, no matter what storm is on the way the water’s ultimately going to go down the river. Maybe pep talk is not the right way. I don’t always … I do think that our mind is always working, always saying things, and you’re not always so conscious of it, but it’s this routine that I have. I think it’s kind of a safe place for me because in a match it can be an hour match or it can be a three-hour match.
In tennis, momentum changes so much. Just like in life. One second everything’s positive and you get bad news. Someone is leaving the company, or someone’s not going to work anymore, or someone’s not healthy, and all of the sudden you go from a great day to, “Wow.” It’s just the way for me. I see those strings and I see my fingers playing with those strings, and I think of being level headed and being not overly excited, not down, but being in this medium frame of mind.
I would love to dig into specifically, and this is related, serving. You’ll start to notice a theme here that this is also very self-interested because I’ve never learned how to play tennis despite the fact that I grew up out on Long Island surrounded by people on tennis courts. Most of which I was not allowed on. I would serve their coffee. I’m going to my first tennis camp in the next few months to try to learn to play tennis. What recommendations would you have?
Don’t do it.
Don’t do it.
Besides don’t do it because I’ve already sort of …
… jumped off the cliff and I’m trying to grow wings. For serving, because I think you’ve hit up to 121 mile an hour serves, which just makes my eyes spin inside my skull. I can’t even imagine what that looks like. Any tips for the people out there. I’ll depersonalize. Not Tim, but actually for Tim. The people out there who would like to be better at serving. Do you any recommendations? Dos or do nots.
The one thing that I notice a lot with people that are just starting to play tennis, and it’s not just about the serve, but it’s in all strokes is that they take their eye off the ball in order to see the result or where the ball is going, which is a big mistake. In the beginning especially because the more eye contact you have with the ball the more the strings of your racquet are going to be on the ball itself. Seeing the lines of the ball, visualizing that will really help you. Kind of maintaining like when you lift your arm up to hit a serve sometimes we want to bring it right back down as we make contact, so keeping that left arm up is something that I focus on when I make a few errors.
As a right hander?
Yeah, as a right hander or if it’s a left hander then keeping your right arm up. Yeah, I’d say those are the two top things. By the way, I am the worst at coaching.
I don’t believe that. I don’t believe it for a second.
Please do. Please do because it’s so true. Someone asked me the other day, “Would you ever consider coaching?”
You just gave good advice.
I was like, “Oh, my goodness. No.”
You’re like, “I’ve had enough tennis on one side.”
I’m sorry. I’d probably rather commentate, which is …
I think you just don’t like talking about yourself. I think …
I think you probably are a very good coach. If you’re a good player you can be, I think, if you get the right questions maybe a good coach, so I’m going to try.
Where do you think tennis players, let’s just say novice-intermediate, waste a lot of time? Where do they focus too much or spend too much time on and where should they spend more time?
I think they spend a lot of time on the outcome. I think that a lot goes into the result. Is it in? Is it out? Is it long? Is it in the net? It all the sudden becomes your focus. It becomes your focus point. That’s why I mentioned watching the ball as long as you can because it takes your mind away from thinking if the ball is going to be in or out, and therefore I always feel that your attitude and your body language … I’ve always thought that’s a very big part of the game itself and how you’re able to transfer this body language from a mistake into a winner that you hit in just the next ball or in a few balls.
Sometimes that’s all it takes because tennis is a matter of really millimeters. You could do the same thing and the ball, just the wind takes it and it’s long. If you’re playing under conditions where it’s not windy you do the same exact thing and you have the same technique but it goes in. One day you’re cursing at yourself and you’re upset, and the next day you think you just won a grand slam. It’s a very thin line. There’s no doubt about it, but I think there’s a lot of attitude that needs to calm down when I watch junior tournaments, when I watch body language, when I see facial expressions and looking over on the sides of the court. A lot of it is because tennis is so emotional and it’s so in the moment. Every single point counts and you want it to count, and, of course, it shows how passionate you are about it, but the attitude is a very important part of being a tennis player.
In addition to the attitude or layered on top of the attitude … I half promise this will be my last question about technique. In the first month if you were coaching your son or daughter in tennis …
Oh, my goodness.
Let’s just assume they said, “Last thing I want to do is tennis,” and then at age 20 they’re like, “You know what? I actually want to do tennis.”
Well, they can just get an instructor.
Just because dealing with a little kid is a whole thing in and of itself.
We can also depersonalize it and just you’re teaching someone you care about, right?
What would make sure they get right in the first four weeks? What would you really focus on?
I think the basic techniques. Even when you’re young that’s the main thing. Those are your fundamentals, so if you need to go right and you’re going to big serve, but you turn left from the beginning you’re done. That’s how I’ve always seen tennis is the mechanics are important and they need to be easy. Like sometimes, I see strokes that are so complicated and that are so … The backswing is huge and the spins are crazy and I think it definitely can be much more simple and it’s not about power. It’s not about hitting a winner. A lot of it is controlled power. I mean, I play very aggressive and powerful game but when I play the best is when it’s controlled power. When I don’t want it to be power but when my strokes are simple, when they’re not complicated, when I’m not trying to grunt as loud as I can even though I grunt very loud. When it’s really compact, you know, keeping your elbow close to your body, instead of having this huge loop and really zoning in on the ball. I always see people take their eyes off the ball.
Well, I hate to say it, but I think your next book might be about tennis technique.
I don’t think … I doubt it.
So I’m not gonna forget to mention it, but I do want to mention it. You have a new book and I have more questions. I won’t keep you here five hours as much I want to, but you have a new book, Unstoppable, which I am actually extremely, extremely excited to read. And I don’t … My listeners know I do not actually always say that. I’m very excited to dig into it.
But, can you tell us a little bit about it and then I will give one of many reasons why I’m excited to check it out. But could you tell us, A. Why write a book? Because books are a pain in the ass. And I can speak from experience.
Well, I didn’t know that but now that I’ve just finished reading the audio version and I know that it’s completed, I just took a deep breath and I said, “Wow.” I said, “Wow. I have so much respect for every book that’s on that shelf in front of me right now.”
You’re like, I can’t believe people do this for a living.
Who would ever do that?
But you know what, about two and a half years ago, I had a meeting with an agent and I sat down and she came into the meeting talking to me about a potential memoir. And it was so far, it was just an idea that she had. It was not really even a vision or a plan. She just wanted to talk to me about it.
She knew a little bit about my story, about moving to America, she didn’t know everything and we had this conversation and I came into the meeting actually just taking the meeting because I wanted to be nice. And I never thought that I was ready to write a book and to share so much of what I share in this book about that moving to America, about facing my rivals, about my personal life, about all the experiences that I’ve had in the thirty years that I’ve lived.
And I wrote a few paragraphs myself and she, yeah, she was very … It was interesting because I left the meeting feeling like, “Wow, I’m really gonna write a book, aren’t I?” And it wasn’t anything that she said, it was just the conversation and her asking me about my story. And as i started speaking about it, her eyes lit up and she said it was incredible. And I looked at her like, huh? Really? Because I don’t know, I always think that everyone’s story is special and everyone gets to where they are in their own certain unique ways. And I, no, I just don’t go about my life thinking that I know that it’s very different and that it’s maybe one in a million and that my family took a chance. But I don’t walk around thinking, “Wow, this is brilliant.”
And so I walked out of that meeting thinking, “Wow, I might be a writer. I might write a book.” And so I wrote a few paragraphs myself and in just a few weeks time, we got this offer with no questions asked. No, is this gonna be gossip? No, who’s gonna be part of the story. I signed with Sarah Crichton at FSG and she wanted to hear my story.
And I don’t know, it inspired me. It made me feel like there was a lot of inspirational work that I could put on paper for people to read. There was a writer that I had in mind, whose name is Rich Cohen who you’re very familiar with.
I am very … You made such a great choice. That was one of the things I was going to bring up. Just for people who don’t know and I hate to interject but this is another thing that made me so excited.
No, please do.
So Rich has written just some incredible books.
Jerry Weintraub’s book was incredible.
Yeah, and also, I mean, The Fish That Ate The Whale.
Which a lot of people have heard of. You know, one of my, actually two or three friends, one of their favorite books of all time. So I’ll let you carry on, but Rich, you made a great choice.
When I read Jerry Weintraub’s book somewhere on holiday during my off season in November, probably I’d say seven years ago, I said to myself that if I ever write a book, that Rich Cohen would help me do it. And when I made the decision to write this book, I had my agent find out who Rich Cohen was, where he lived, what he did, if he had time to do this. I didn’t even know if this was a possibility. So I met him, and this was so fascinating because I met with three writers and I met him at this swanky New York hotel. And he walked in there just looking like he did not belong. And I knew exactly that this was my guy.
That’s my guy.
That’s my guy. Like I knew that he knew where he was going, he took the train, he had his shoulder bag on, and he was just looking around. He was simple and our conversation was very simple. It wasn’t anything over the top but I knew from just meeting with him for thirty minutes that he was a genius in his literature and that’s where his geniuses come out. It’s on paper.
And I got that sense from the beginning. And another reason I chose to work with him was because throughout my life, I have been influences by a lot of male figures, so of my father, my coaches Nick Bollettieri, Robert Lansdorp, my manager, and I wanted Rich to sit down with these people. I wanted him to spend time with these people, to really get an understanding of the characters that were part of my life that made me who I am today.
And I thought of these people. I thought of my father and I thought of the person that he would give the time to. That he would open up to. That he would share with and I think that was one of the biggest reasons that I … I mean, he and my father spent over a week together just talking and talking. And it wasn’t even … life, life talking, stories. I mean, my father was able to tell stories that I read in the book and I was like, “Wow. Wow. I was so young that I don’t remember it.” Yeah, we spent so many weeks together. I loved the way that he worked. I loved the questions that he would … I just loved the simplicity of him as a human being.
I love the filter also. It wouldn’t even have occurred to me, at least in this conversation, if you hadn’t mentioned it. But the fact that it’s not just who you like and whose writing you like, but who other people will talk to.
Because a big part of my story is the other people that influenced my life. And because I started my life at such a young age, I started this crazy move and this crazy profession and these people were so influential and they’re very much a part of this. A part of the reason that I’m here.
Unstoppable, My Life So Far. Man, you have a lot of decades left.
Yeah. Well you know, I wanted it to be called, To Be Continued. And I got shut down really fast. They’re like, that’s basically telling everyone to get a new book. I was like, wait a second, that’s been my dream ever since I was … Because when I would see memoirs written by or autobiographies written by younger individuals, I would think to myself, “Do they really think that their life is over and that this is all they have to tell?”
So of course when you say that you have a book come out, a memoir when you’re 30 years old and I was just so, like I had this vision of calling it To Be Continued. But they’re like, you have to explain what’s inside the pages and not what’s coming out next. And I was like, “No.”
What you could do, you know you say you can have this, Unstoppable, My Life So Far. Then you write your coaching book that you promised me you’d write. Then the third book can be, Unstoppable: My Life Continues or It Continues.
So I think you could get a number of-
I can play with it. I know.
You can play with it. You can play with it.
We had many different titles.
I’d love to ask some micro questions just about routine and perhaps a couple of other rapid fire questions that I’d like to ask. Before I get to that, I know you’ve had some shoulder issues in your life. I’ve had shoulder reconstruction surgery and improved mobility and recovered largely.
Good luck with that, sir, if you’ve had that.
I know. Now fortunately it’s on my non dominant arm.
Oh, that’s good, okay.
But I was going to ask you, you mentioned some of your team, the fitness coach and so on.
What have you found to help most? Are there any particular exercises that have made you more resilient against injury? For injury prevention, what are some of the components of say, your fitness program, that you think have helped most?
I like that you used the word prevention because a lot of the makeup of an athlete is about prevention, and we do so much to try to prevent injuries, and don’t always succeed, but a big part of the little exercises, and the tedious things, and the repetition is that, and I would say the biggest component of, because I went through shoulder surgery, is the consistency of keeping up with the exercises. There’s a lot of exercise out there, and they’re all great exercises, but it’s very rare that you keep doing them. I start every morning after my shoulder surgery, before every practice I have a routine with a rubber band. That’s not a rare routine for a tennis player, we all warm up. We do about a 30 minute warm up before we even get to warm up on the court before a match, so there are a lot of little scapula exercises that you do.
This is with a TheraBand? One of those?
A TheraBand, right. A lot of it is not even about the weight that you have or the resistance of the TheraBand, but it’s the repetition that you do so the feeling that you have in the back of your scapula or in the tendons of your shoulder is that it starts burning. That’s when you really know that the little muscles in between the big ones are firing. The more consistent you are with that, the bigger chance of you getting healthy, and also preventing something else to happen, because your body always compensates, so if I have an injury in one place your body … the brain is so smart that it starts using other parts of the body, and all of a sudden you feel it somewhere else. The consistency of following through and really keeping at it is, for me is always the most challenging thing, and I see people give up on it.
What about for the lower body? Are there any particular exercises that you wish you’d incorporated earlier?
I grew very fast, and that’s something that I speak about in the book as well, because no one in my family is tall. I’m the tallest one. I talk about the struggles that I had as a teenager during that period of time, and my father says I grew because I had this will to grow and that I needed it for my sport and that it was everyone’s wish, including mine, that I would be taller so I could serve from a higher angle or that I could be more powerful. But with that comes … you’re a little bit less explosive, you’re not as mobile, you’re a little stiffer, and I think movement … in tennis you have so many movements that are just back and forth and changing direction, and so I work a lot on the joints. I work a lot on balance. Balance at the core and then balance on little unstabilizing platforms where I really work my ankles and my knees. Make sure those are all aligned and not wobbling too much.
Just gaining the confidence, and sometimes they seem like the most, the simple exercises. If you take a picture of them or a video of them, they’re the ones that you don’t want to post, ‘cause someone will think you’re not doing anything, you know what I mean? They’re not impressive looking.
Yeah, you’re not doing an Olympic weight lifting maneuver.
No, not doing any RDLs, but the little things that take time and that look so simple and that are boring are the ones that really … not only do you keep your focus, but you keep your strength and the balance. I work on the core a lot, ‘cause I do believe that it is the center of your body and it controls so much of … it puts the body together, it’s like the glue.
If you could only choose one or two core exercises to do, what would they be?
I love using the TRX band and do that yellow band.
And putting it up, hanging it and putting my feet in it and then doing the plank-
And then doing bicycles while you’re in a plank when your feet are in the TRX. I like that.
So you’re crossing your midline with your knee?
Yes, that’s a fantastic exercise.
It’s a little bit on the advanced side, but I know that your audience can do it.
And you can also, folks, if have really tough top of your feet, you can do that. I actually have some rings that I’m looking at outside on my patio set up at push up height and you can do something very, very similar.
Exactly. I do a lot on the physioball, and that’s always simple. Most gyms have it, even just the-
Also known as a Swiss Ball if people are-
Right, and for those of you who’ve heard my conversations with Dr. Peter Attia, he is a huge fan of doing different plank motions on the physioball, and just to your point about unimpressive exercises, I have completely changed my lower body performance and just stability in the last six months using slant boards, which make you look like you’re on the most unenjoyable drug imaginable, but it’s this tiny, tiny adjustment that I feel like has changed my entire lower body by focusing on the feet.
Here, here. Now, I have … I’m also looking at them right now. I have a bottle of geranium essential oil. I know it’s not it is not a great segue, but bear with me. I have a bottle of geranium-
I am like where are we going with this?
Geranium because it was recommended to me by someone named Nicholas McCarthy, who is a one handed concert pianist who uses geranium when he is writing and composing because he found it helped keep him alert without overstimulating him. So he was relaxed and alert. So at some point, I saw a video of you when you were 14, a star in the making-
That’s right. Candles and aromatherapy.
Candles and essential oils, oh I love, I still love that stuff.
Are you still into that?
I am. You should see the room that I’m in right now. I have all these oils and all these candles. For me it’s about this feeling of being in your home environment, and comfort. That’s something that you don’t get when you travel so much, so when I do, it’s my way of feeling … every morning I turn on my incense, and my candles, and I have my coffee and it’s the smell of being home.
What’s the goto morning incense?
It’s a moroccan scent. I don’t exactly know what’s in it, but it smells like I’m in Morocco, even though I’ve never been there. Another one that’s on my list.
Do you not bring those smells with you when you travel?
I don’t. Interestingly enough, when I go on a trip I know that that’s my work. I like leaving those things behind-
It makes perfect sense.
Because it makes me feel that I’m going there for a reason, and I’m not going there to be comfortable, I’m not going to be there in my environment. I’m there to do my job, and I will come back home and I’ll have everything. I’ll have my friends, and I’ll be around my family, but when I leave it’s like there’s so many times when I’ve left and I’ve gone on a plane and it’s the middle of the day in Manhattan Beach, and the sun is shining, and everyone’s playing volleyball, and I look at that and I’m like it’s hard, it’s definitely hard to know my friends are out there, and I want to be out there, and I want to be enjoying the sunset, but I know what I’m going out there for.
I know that, come a time when I have five days off, I’ll be able to take my friends on vacation, and treat them to a beautiful time. But now is my time to work, so I like leaving those things behind because it makes me feel that there is a prize at the end of it. There is something that I’m, that makes my job different. I don’t know if that makes sense.
It makes perfect 100% sense to me, and it actually relates to something that made me smile when I read it. I was looking at a transcript of a conversation that you had, and this requires a little bit of context but I’ll shorten it. I hate the word balance. What is balance? Because it’s 50/50, that means you’re only giving 50% to both things. I’ve always disliked the phrase work/life balance, because it implies blending to me, and I like to keep them very, very separate.
Do you think that’s something that has helped you more than hurt you, or challenged you, in terms of relationships, outcomes, and everything else? Do you think there will be a point where you trade that, or change your mind about that?
I definitely think that it’s challenged me. It’s challenged the way that I think, but I read The One Thing a few years ago by Gary Keller. I really, it kind of hit home for me when you’re saying that when you wake up in the morning, you put your focus on this one thing of what you want to accomplish during the day, which seems like a no brainer. It seems like, “Okay. That’s the way that everyone should do it.”
It’s so much more complicated than that, and for example, when I leave for a trip, and one of my good friends is getting married in August, and I’m going to be either in Cincinnati or Toronto competing at a tournament, I know that I’m not there for my friend. It’s a big day, it’s a big event, and yet, I have this career in front of me that is taking priority. I could give many examples of my personal life as well.
Those are choices, those are your choices. Those are, I don’t think that there is a 50/50 balance. That hasn’t worked for me. I’ve always felt that I’ve had to let something go, or have I sacrificed something if I’m just 50/50, I’m never 100%, and I want to be 100%. When you train hours on end, when you give so much of your body and your mind to this one profession, and whether it’s me playing tennis, whether it’s something else, I don’t want to come into one of the biggest moments and biggest stages of my career and feel that I didn’t do everything that I could.
I do think that some people are okay with that feeling, but I am not, and that’s my choice. It all comes down to choice. I think we all have them, but as long as I’m able to say, and I do believe it’s for other people as well, as long as we commit to that choice and not regret that choice, or don’t allow ourselves to regret that choice, then that’s when it’s the right formula for us.
You have many, many, many choices that are put in front of you. You have people to help, but I would love to talk about choices in the morning. First thing in the morning has come up a number of times, and I’m rather obsessed with morning routines.
You mentioned the incense, Morocco. You mentioned the tea, Darjeeling. When you wake up, do you eat breakfast right away? What does the first 60 to 90 minutes of your day look like, and what’s the script? What is the algorithm for you?
It’s different all the time.
Okay. What about breakfast… Is breakfast consistent? Do you have, for instance, for this week, what is your go-to breakfast?
I’m in training right now, and I’m getting ready to play all these hardcore tournaments. For the last weeks, I’ve been healing an injury. Now that that’s all good, I’m back into the routine of just intense training every day. I start at a particular time in the morning. I like to wake up early. I like to go to bed early, so I wake up early. I like to get about eight to nine hours of sleep. Sleep has been a big part of … I just feel like the makeup of how I feel, of the energy level that I have.
I wake up at 6:30, I usually have to be ready by nine for practice. I use that time, and it kind of depends. Right now, I have a couple of businesses that I’m a part of, so a lot of the first hour, hour and a half, I spend maybe on a conference call. That’s usually afternoon time in Europe, so I’ll do one of those, I’ll answer a few emails that’s coming in from Europe. I have a candy brand, so we have to make a lot of decisions on that on a daily basis.
Now, I’m not gonna interrupt beyond this, but is it true that you were considering legally changing your name, your last name?
It was an idea.
For the 2013 US Open, to Sugarpova?
Is was an idea.
It’s a genius idea, genius idea.
It proved to be very difficult, but it was very funny.
You’re taking conference calls …
I do that work for the first hour, hour and a half with a cup of coffee that I have to have in the morning, with lactose free milk.
What type of lactose free milk? Sorry, I’m a nerd.
Just straight on lactose free milk.
Oh, I see. It’s not almond milk, or coconut milk.
I see. Lactose free real milk.
Yeah. Lactose free real milk.
I do Nespresso. Simple.
I think for me, it’s all about the foam, because I have to have the right foam. I do that, and then I usually, when I’m getting ready, I turn on a podcast. I listen, it kind of depends on the mood I’m in, whether it’s about health, or I want to hear about someone’s life, or someone’s experiences. I’ll turn that on, so by the time I get my stuff ready for the whole day of practices, and brushing my teeth, I listen to other people share.
What are some of your favorite podcasts?
All right. Why do you listen to Dan Harris? I was going to ask you if you have a meditation practice of any type.
It’s interesting. Someone asked me the other day, “Do you meditate?” I said, “I don’t, but I really feel like I do, because I listen to so many people speak about meditating, and I really, I feel like I do.” I had to think for a second. I almost said, “Yes.” I was like, “No, no, no. Actually, I don’t meditate, but I listen to people speak about it.”
I have a little bit. I’ve tried, I’ve done it, and I enjoy it. Some of it feels a little cultish to me.
I’m sure there’s plenty of that floating around. Oh, yeah. You didn’t like the cat’s paw and black roses I sent you? Is that what you’re trying to tell me?
I like to hear about people’s experience, life changing experience, and I think that’s what really interests me, is how something can affect a person, whether it’s reading a book, whether it’s hearing a mantra, whether it’s meditating. That’s why I like listening to people speak about their practices, or how it’s influenced their life, or what they were going through that required that. Yeah, I love learning from people’s experiences. I think that’s one of the reasons I listen to his.
I think you’ve been meditating your entire life because of-
I kind of feel like it.
… your comfort level with repetition.
I think that that is one and the same, in a lot of respects. Some people-
I do. The one thing that I’ve … I don’t really know where I got it from, but one thing that I do, I realize that our thoughts are so spread out, and that they go in so many different directions. When I notice that my mind goes to places that are so unnecessary when I create my own stories that are so far from the truth, I bring it back to the center of my breath. I do think about just breathing.
That’s not like me sitting in a chair and having thoughts, or saying, “Okay, now I gonna meditate for 10 minutes.” That’s just me, whether it’s on a practice court and things are not going well, or I’m making so many errors, and all of a sudden, I just create this story that is so far from the truth, or the reality-
What would be an example of that?
Say my coach has me … Say I studied some video analysis, and he showed me a particular stroke that he wants me to work on, or a particular movement, and he said, “That’s incorrect, and this is … “ He shows me an example of what he thinks I should do a little differently.
I go on the practice court, I start doing that, and with repetition, I’m not getting the outcome that I wanted. I plant this story that, “No. He’s incorrect. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about.” Or that, “No, actually, this is not … This doesn’t feel right. This doesn’t feel natural. I’m not gonna feel natural. If it doesn’t feel natural now, it’s not gonna feel natural in a competitive state of mind.”
I know all those things are completely not true. Those are all things that I’m putting in my brain.
How do you catch that? What do you say in your own head when you catch it?
I’m so aware of my surroundings, and I’m really aware of kind of the inside choices that I make. I’ve had sort of this feeling from a young age, where I know how my mind can affect others, or my surrounding, and myself included, without having to say one word, so I try to bring it back to my breath, or sometimes changing those words completely, even those are also not true, but they’re much better than the negative outcome that you’re putting out into the world.
I interrupted at some point, which I’m prone to doing because I get all excited. I also want to recommend Hardcore History with Dan Carlin, if you haven’t heard it. I recommend starting with-
Okay. I will, tomorrow morning.
Wrath of the Khans is what I would recommend starting with. It is my favorite podcast of all time, and he does one episode every six to 12 months, but you’ll see why. They are incredible. Also, I want to … I would be remise if I didn’t say thank you to Louis, a mutual friend …
Yes, that’s right.
… who made the introduction.
Who made this possible.
Very good man.
I think we didn’t get around to it because I got all hoppitty and jumped in, right now, you have the espresso with very important foam. You have some conference calls. You take care of Sugarpova and so on.
Then my phone goes in my bag for the next few hours, and I train.
When do you eat? What do you have for breakfast?
I eat probably 30 minutes before I get to practice, so I-
Okay, so for the first two and a half, three hours, you’re not having breakfast?
I just have a liter of water, and a cup of coffee.
Is it special water?
No. It’s Evian water.
Okay, got it. It’s not like $27, Southern California water. It’s just Evian.
I drink that. I drink my coffee and then breakfast, I usually make myself a smoothie, or a green juice with spinach and kale and chia seeds and coconut water and all the other greens, cucumber, kiwi, and I always have a piece of rye bread. That’s kind of the European … I love rye bread, so I start with that. I either put some goat cheese on it, or a piece of protein, or avocado, and some berries, and that’s it.
Thanks. Pretty straightforward.
I love rye bread, but my tendency is to eat a whole loaf of rye bread if I allow myself a little bit. I’m not very good at that moderation thing.
Well, the thing about rye bread is that I don’t think that it’s so good so that I … I think it’s better than some other breads, but it’s not like … Like sourdough, I love, but …
I see. Got it.
I don’t eat regular bread that much, so if I was eating a piece of sourdough, I’d probably have three pieces, but …
That’s a good point.
… rye bread is in between, it’s edible, but …
It’s digestible and good, but it’s not a Snickers bar.
That’s a good point.
But you don’t want too much of it.
Yeah. All right. No, this is a smart approach. All right, so just a few more things. In the last few years, or just in recent memory, what is a new belief or behavior or habit that has greatly improved your life? Does anything come to mind?
One thing that I had to go through in the past 15 months was being away from my sport because of a suspension that I faced, and I went through this time period obviously with a lot of questions, and questions of whether I would return to sport, or whether I returned to the sport that I played, but during that same time, I also realized, and I had a chance to stop and really recognized how and what I’ve really done in my life and my career to inspire others, and to … I’ve used the word inspire a lot because that’s how I see other people inspire my life, but I have so many moments and instances where I would come across people that would start a conversation with me and tell me how I’ve influenced their kids, or how they’ve seen me compete and they admire my spirit so much and that they can’t wait to see me back. I never had that realization before, which sounds crazy, but I never really understood, or I don’t think I really understood, maybe it was selfishly, how much I impacted other people.
Did you notice that because PR madness was stressful and you saw that as a counter-balance? Why do you think you noticed it?
I think I noticed it because so many more people had the courage to speak to me, which usually people would come up to you and ask for an autograph or ask for a picture and it’d just be, what? A few seconds of your time, but these were instances where people would come and have a proper conversation with you about how they can’t wait to see me back and they can’t wait to see me play and what I mean to them. It was just different. It was a different communication. It was a different way of … and every person helped me feel better. There’s no doubt. It was chefs coming from the kitchen and they were pilots coming from the cockpit. It was just an experience I don’t think I would have ever felt, and maybe because I never wanted to feel that huge responsibility that I did have this impact, and that I always wanted to keep impacting and always be the right example. Maybe that’s why I never quite … but I do think that subconsciously, I didn’t want to give into that because maybe that would have added more pressure, because as I said before, my parents never made me feel that if I did or I didn’t make it, that it would be all right to go back to where we started.
Yeah, it was a very eye-opening moment.
Now, you had your first sponsor, as I understand it, when you were 11.
When you were getting that amount of attention, and when you have adulation from fans and chefs and so on, it would seem to me a very human temptation and very easy to get a very big head and for that to affect your life and performance and so on. How do you counteract that, or how do you avoid that? Because that’s been the downfall of many, many people who have been in the limelight for various things.
I will say that I’m a fairly realistic person, and I know I’ve been through a lot, so I’ve faced a lot of grief. I’ve faced a lot of press. I’ve faced a lot of success. I’ve faced a lot of boardroom meetings. I’ve seen a lot. I’ve seen a lot in my years, and at the end of it, a lot of it is superficial and a lot of it almost seems not human, like superhuman, but behind everything, there’s a very human person. There’s a very normal, there’s a very much a simple human being that … I mean, I’ve been fortunate to make good money from my career, but those things are never the things that make me the happiest, and I know that, and I realize that. The values that you have in your life are much smaller than that, and they bring so many more rewards than money could ever bring you. Of course, it’s helpful, and knowing that I … It puts a huge smile on my face that I can support my grandparents, and that I can buy them a home, and that I know they’re going to be comfortable, and they can have their garden and grow their cucumbers and that my cousins can have a proper education and that feeling is incredible, but that’s … That’s a feeling that of course money brings you, but I think the value …
Like I said, the relationship that I’ve had with my parents, they’re also very strong people, and they will tell me if they see that something’s going on, or if my decisions are not correct, and they’re very real. I surround myself with real people. I’m a very honest person myself. I think that’s part of the Russian character. I say it like it is. I’m very straight on about what I feel, and that’s sometimes gotten me into trouble, just based on maybe I should keep a few opinions to myself, but I like this idea of, “Tell me how you feel about things. Tell me straight up. Don’t go around, don’t …” Maybe this word “maybe” is brutal. It’s neither here nor there, so it’s hard. It’s definitely hard because from a young age, I could have made so many different decisions, and they could have gotten me to different places.
What is one of the worst decisions that you avoided making, or one of the best decisions that your parents helped you make?
At that age, it was a lot of decisions that my parents made, but I think from a business point of view. I’ve been able to be associated with many great brands, and there is a lot of opportunities especially when I was young to make when I like to call quick money, so wire in the bank, you show up for a shoot and you do it and you smile and you leave and there you are. It’s not that it’s … It’s great that you have this company and this brand that has tracked you down and has seen you and has studied you and wants you to be a part of their brand, but I’ve always felt like the best decisions I’ve made are based on real partnerships, real understanding of what a company of what myself wants from each other and why we want to work together, and I really believe that’s one of the reasons I’ve had these partnerships for such a long time.
I mean one example is with Nike. I mean it’s so much more than just me wearing a swoosh on the court. I go into a store and I take pride in the fact that … Actually I was walking around the other day and someone came up to me and said, “Wow, you look like you could be a Nike billboard.” And I looked… I didn’t know if that was funny or not or if they were making fun of what I was wearing, but I looked at her, and I was like, “Yeah,” and then she said, “Oh wow. You’re Maria Sharapova. Of course you are. They pay you to wear that.” I said, “No, actually you have no idea how happy I am to wear this.” You grow a fondness of the people that you work with. There’s so much that goes into a campaign, a product, and I love that stuff. I love knowing … I went to the Nike campuses after my Harvard experience and I went into meetings and I kind of shadowed … I was like a little ghost in all these meetings because I wanted to learn about product development-
That was at Beaverton or …
So I went into these meetings, and I wanted to know why a product is dropped and why this material is used and why that material is being developed. There’s just so much incredible technology … I love fashion. I love creativity, so I got to learn a lot about that, but you take great pride in the people that you work with, and the decisions that I made that started with either a friendship or a partnership where you understand the company and you know the people are the ones that have grown.
I mean you’re playing the long game in a lot of ways, and I think there are many people who feel like they know a lot about you. So my last two questions are about things that people might not know about you, and hopefully there’s a lot of that in this conversation already, but the first one is, if you had to give a TED Talk about something you are not known for, no tennis for instance, what would you talk about? What is the personal obsession that few people know about or something you’re good at that few people know about that you would talk about or anything?
I don’t know if I’m good at, and I don’t know if I’d necessarily do a TED Talk on it, but I have a huge passion for architecture, and yeah, I think I’ve always said that if I wasn’t a tennis player, I would love to be an architect. I find it’s my happy place when I am able to drive around in Palm Springs or drive around Tuscany and see the differences in beams and windows. I love studying that and I spent a few years building a home myself and that process I feel, if I had the time, which I don’t have at the moment, I would just do for fun. So yeah, that would be something that I’m passionate about that not many people know.
What do you like about it and do you have any favorite types of architecture or architects, anything, books that have influenced you?
It makes perfect sense.
I’ve just always been fascinated by how someone can have an idea and draw some lines and two years later you have structure and you have placement and you have a floor plan and you have this maze. It actually started from a young age because growing up in Florida I was invited for a few sleepovers, and I would go to a sleepover at a rich … At that time it was like a rich person’s home that had four or five bedrooms, and I’d never seen a home that had four or five bedrooms before, and it was like, “What are all these rooms for? Why is there two dining rooms? Why isn’t one enough?” That’s when I became fascinated with floor plans and how something connects to another thing and the usage of space and then details like colors and materials. Yeah, it was just always really appealing.
What is your personal favorite color?
I love neutral colors, so I love grays and darks and … No browns.
I don’t want to say black because that’s … I mean when I say to someone … A little girl asked me the other day, “What’s your favorite color?” She wanted to draw something for me, and I was about to say black, and then I was like, “Oh no. She’s not going to like me if I say black.” So now every time someone asks me my favorite color, I’m like, “Yellow?” I don’t know. It sounds so much happier than black.
Yeah, I guess that’s hard to say to a little girl who wants to draw you something. “Black, like the Grim Reaper’s cape.”
Exactly. So I ended up with yellow.
That’s your cover story?
So very last one, and we’ll see what we get, is what is an unusual habit or an absurd thing that you love? I’ll give you an example of this. I asked Cheryl Strayed this question, who wrote Wild, which was made into a movie and amazing woman. She said, “Every sandwich I get has to be in uniform layers, so every bite is as similar to the next as possible.” So if she gets a sandwich and all the avocados are over on one side or whatever, she’ll reopen it and rearrange it so that every bite is the same. Now I’m not saying you have to have something like that, but does anything come to mind, an unusual habit, a weird object, an absurd thing, anything that you love that is a little odd?
I have a few random things. I always put my left shoe on before my right, and not just a tennis shoe, but any shoe. I never, when I’m in a store and I’m trying shoes and they hand me a right shoe, I’m like, “I’m sorry, but … I’m fine with opening the box again myself. I’d rather get the left shoe.” They give you a strange look. Then for my match court outfits, I don’t like to wear … Usually people like to wear the same outfit so if they did well in it, they’d wear it again. I mean they wash it, but then wear it again, or maybe they don’t wash it. I don’t know. So I do the opposite. I don’t wear it again. I alternate.
So you never … Now does that mean that-
I don’t want to wear the same exact one. I’ll wear the same-looking outfit, but I have a few different ones.
Okay, but never the exact same outfit again.
I love it.
Not in that same tournament.
You know what? I feel like I’m making a liar of myself, but when you win a big tournament, do you have a favorite cheat food or anything that you celebrate with?
I love sweets. I love dulce de leche…
Oh my God.
I love … We have this cake in Russia. It’s called medovik. It’s a honey cake. I could eat that every day for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Is it like baklava or is it different?
No, it’s not as crunchy. It’s a soft cake. It’s a layer cake, but it’s a soft cake. Yeah. I love cherry … When my grandmother makes cherry jam, I could eat that by the spoons. That’s a childhood memory. Yeah, so I love sweets.
Well it makes sense for Sugarpova.
For an athlete, right? It makes a lot of sense.
Well it’s great for glycogen replenishment, right?
For those people wondering, dulce de leche, also known as the crack cocaine of Argentina, delicious on vanilla ice cream.
Yeah, it’s so good.
If it’s going to keep other people up until 4:00 in the morning because it will drive them nuts, romanian deadlifts, right?
Just so that doesn’t bother anybody. Maria, this has been so much fun. I really appreciate you taking the time.
Thank you. Oh no, thank you so much.
I really encourage people to learn more about your story. I cannot wait to read Unstoppable, and people can find you MariaSharapova.com, Facebook, Facebook.com/sharapova, and then Twitter and Instagram are both @MariaSharapova.
Do you have any final ask of the people listening or a suggestion for the audience, anything that comes to mind?
No. I just hope that they continue listening to your work because when I started I was so impressed by your interviews and the way you’re able to get a lot out of people in a conversational form. So keep listening, and yeah, and I’m really excited about the opportunity that I had to share my story with other people and to share my journey and sometimes we think that our story is not special, and everyone’s story is very special and I’ve just been so excited about being able to put it on paper and for everyone to read it, so yeah. I’ve always been a very personal and private individual, so it’s a big moment for me because I share a lot of the frame of mind that I had as a young girl and as an athlete, as a person, as a daughter, and relationships, so there’s a lot I share that I never thought a few years ago I would be able to. It’s exciting. It’s a little scary. It puts you in a vulnerable place, but I’m very looking forward to hearing what people think of it as well.
And A, congratulations. B, we talked about toughness as one of your defining competitive advantages. The fact that you recorded your own audio book …
Oh my God. No, I was like, “No one’s giving me enough credit for this.”
Oh my God. You think walking through or running a marathon in the desert with no water is hard. Recording an entire audio book …
I had to take a couple days off after that because I was training in the mornings and then I’d go and I’d record six to eight hours for three days.
I called my team at the end of the third and I said, “First of all, I have no voice, and second of all, you have off tomorrow because I’m not coming.”
Yeah. It is one of the most …
It’s so challenging.
… comprehensively exhausting experiences you can imagine, which is why I’ve never recorded one of my own audiobooks. I’ve done bits and pieces, and then I’ve tapped out.
Right. So what I liked at the end of it was that after I read it, and when you read out loud, I didn’t want to change a single thing, and that was when I …
Yeah. That is incredibly rare. Incredibly rare.
That was a big milestone.
Incredibly, incredibly rare, which means that the book has to be really, really good. No, I’m telling you that’s a really clear indicator. If you didn’t change A, it means that it’s good. B, it means that our dear friend Mr. … Well, I’m kidding. I don’t know him, but Rich Cohen, I know of his work, really got the voice right, which is really, really hard to do.
So I’m excited to check it out. Everybody check it out, and Unstoppable, you can find it everywhere, and thank you so much for the time, Maria. I know that your time is precious and I know you have a lot of demands on your time, so I really appreciate it.
Of course. Thank you. I appreciate it.
To everybody listening, you can find these show notes as usual, links to everything we talked about, links to the architects she named, links to Unstoppable itself, links to everything in the show notes at tim.blog/podcast, and as always, thank you for allowing me to make this my job I guess, and until next time, thanks for listening.