The dazzling streak of blonde hair, the piercing scream with every shot of the ball and the full house on Centre Court — Maria Sharapova certainly makes her presence felt.
The Russian tennis player is a true superstar and you get that feeling almost as soon as she steps onto the centre court at Wimbledon during her second round match against Laura Robson of Great Britain at the Olympics on Tuesday.
The crowd here loves Sharapova. The crowds everywhere do. She is a big draw, as much for her ability as for her looks. Sharapova’s arrival on court is greeted with applause — loud cheers ring out from every corner of Centre Court. In a period of hush, wolf-whistles ring out, followed by titters of laughter.
“The crowds [here] are different,” said Sharapova later. “They are more wilder,” she said with a grin. “There are a lot more flags as well.”
Most of those on Tuesday were British ones as Sharapova was turning out against the great British hope in the women’s draw, Laura Robson.
The support was primarily for her opponent and chorus cheers of “Laura, Laura” rang out frequently. Outside people sported Britain flags as they chewed on Yorkshire hogs and strawberries and creams. There was a crying baby too, a strictly forbidden transgression during actual Wimbledon games.
“I could hear a few people shouting my name in Russian, but obviously less since I was playing Robson,” said Sharapova.
In the mixed zones later, Sharapova was the only athlete who did not speak to the press. She flashed a winning smile and walked past. The journalists were informed that there would be a press conference — in 40 minutes. Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray had spoken immediately after their matches. This would be a departure from tradition. No one really complained though.
At the press conference Sharapova was on time, and girlishly charming.
She was full of praise for Robson, who gave her a good run for her money.
“You certainly see the little improvements she’s made. I’m sure she has a bright future ahead of her.”
Sharapova speaks with a marked American accent, a product of moving at an early age to Florida to take part in the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy, which churned out players like Andre Agassi and Monica Seles.
You can also tell that she is just 25; she often uses choice colloquialisms.
“I am like, wow! This is different,” she said while explaining how the Olympics in Wimbledon feel different from the actual thing. “You have the tradition of Wimbledon where everyone wears white, so you know what to expect. This is completely different. I mean, the streets are like one way all of a sudden, there are barricades, more security.”
The living arrangements too are very different and more to her liking, especially as she is often fighting and winning the battle to stay on top of the food line.
“All of us, the Russian team, get together at the official Russian house, and we have dinners together. We have a few cooks that have come from Ukraine, which has been the best part,” she said. Then looking sheepish, she continued: “I’m the first one in line for the food all the time (smiling). I get it when it’s warm. That’s been great.”
Sharapova is more serious when asked about how she felt while bearing her country’s flag during the opening ceremony. Her relationship with Russia has not always been the best in the past. But when she answers you can see that being chosen to be flag-bearer is something that meant a lot to her.
“It was lighter than I thought,” she said smiling. “The ceremony is something I’ll cherish for the rest of my life. Growing up, I was watching the opening ceremony and I loved the hats and the berets they wore. I don’t remember who was carrying the flag then but I thought it was so cool. I thought, hey maybe one day I could do that.” And now she has.
-With The Daily Star input