Former World No. 1 Maria Sharapova despite being a Russian has been living in the USA ever since she was a kid. The 5-time Grand Slam champion trained at the Nick Bollettieri‘s tennis academy in Florida before breaking onto the scene with a sensational start to her career as a teenager before becoming a Grand Slam champion at the 2004 Wimbledon aged 17.
Director of the academy, Gabe Jaramillo recently shared an interesting take into the Russian’s mindset as she was preparing to challenge for titles on the Tour. With Serena Williams and Venus Williams dominating the Women’s circuit, Sharapova had the sisters on her list even before she turned Pro and more importantly it was Serena that got the best out of Maria in the practice sessions.
“It was almost an obsession. We were at the academy, she hit a ball and I told her: ‘Very good!’ ‘No, well no, with that ball I don’t beat Serena’ Every move she made, she thought of Serena, so you can see how these players think, with their minds set five years ahead. I remember when she was 14 years old I saw her lose in the Orange Bowl against Bartoli, who planted the serve on the service line the entire game, without backing down. She lost 6-0 and 6-0, that was in December,” said Gabe.
“I’m training to play against Serena” Maria Sharapova to Gabe Jaramilo
After the defeat to Marion Bartoli, Gabe approached Maria to make her service game stronger to avoid a double bagel defeat. But Maria’s answer stunned the director of the academy.
“When January arrived, we met at the first training session and I told her to practice serving, so that the same thing doesn’t happen to us again. She remained serious and answered: ‘I’m not training to play against Bartoli, that doesn’t matter to me. I’m training to play against Serena Williams’ At the time Serena was already No. 1. Imagine when she won the Wimbledon final at 17 years old, she had been playing that match in her head for at least five years,” said Jaramillo as reported by Tennisuptodate.
While Serena eventually led the head-to-head against Maria, the rivalry was one of the most intense on the WTA Tour in long time giving fans and tennis lovers something to look forward to till the time Maria announced her retirement.