Mental Performance, Work-Life Balance, and the Rise to the Top – Maria Sharapova (#261)

“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.”

– Maria Sharapova

Maria Sharapova (@MariaSharapova) is one of the best tennis players in the world. She is the winner of five Grand Slam titles (two at the French Open and one each at the Australian Open, Wimbledon, and US Open) and an Olympic silver medalist.

Forbes named Maria the highest-paid female athlete of all-time in 2005 — a title she’s held for 12 years. Off the court, she’s an ambassador for many of the world’s top luxury brands and a number of Fortune 500 companies including Porsche, Nike, Evian, and Head. In 2007, she became a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and has made significant contributions to Chernobyl-related projects. Her first and brand-new book, Unstoppable: My Life So Far, is on sale now.

In this conversation, we went deep into the tactics of training, mental performance, mental toughness, and much more. I hope you enjoy it all as much as I did!


#261: Mental Performance, Work-Life Balance, and the Rise to the Top - Maria Sharapova

Want to hear another podcast about higher performance? Listen to this episode with Michael Gervais, where we discuss how to win the war against anxiety, some of the more effective (and less effective) ways to self-talk, understanding mastery, and much more. (stream below or right-click here to download):

#256: How to Overcome Anxiety and Stress - with Adviser to Olympians, Michael Gervais

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QUESTION OF THE DAY: What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.

Scroll below for links and show notes…

Selected Links from the Episode

  • Connect with Maria Sharapova:

Website | Twitter | Instagram | Facebook

Show Notes

  • Tea for two — and Maria’s unorthodox addition. [09:47]
  • From Chernobyl to Siberia to Sochi. [11:00]
  • Maria’s travel tips: what to hit (and miss) in Russia. [12:43]
  • How Maria first got bitten by the tennis bug at age five — and what Martina Navratilova recognized in her even then. [15:12]
  • How Maria’s parents instilled discipline in her from two very different places. [22:53]
  • Two “very strong, tough, emotional” memoirs that inspire Maria. [30:27]
  • On dealing with “equality questions” in interviews. [31:04]
  • How Maria wound up training in the United States at Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy. [32:46]
  • Adjusting to American life at age seven with the help of her “mission.” [41:53]
  • Did Maria’s upbringing put unhealthy pressure on her at an early age to succeed? [47:36]
  • How does Maria feel about the word “rejection?” [49:27]
  • Does Maria consider herself an introvert or an extrovert? [52:01]
  • The importance of surrounding yourself with quality people who inspire rather than drain when in the limelight — and how to tell them apart. [54:34]
  • A recent experience that allowed Maria to step out of her comfort zone, make new connections, and grow in unfamiliar territory. [59:18]
  • Does Maria’s self-talk in competitive situations follow a particular pattern? What kind of self-talk has been most effective? [1:04:27]
  • Maria’s tips for beginning tennis players trying to improve their serve. [1:09:39]
  • If teaching tennis to an absolute beginner, what would Maria want to ensure they get right within the first four weeks? [1:14:52]
  • Maria explains the origin story of her new book, and how the brilliant Rich Cohen got involved in the project. [1:16:54]
  • Best exercises and practices for injury prevention. [1:25:27]
  • Favorite core exercises. [1:30:24]
  • Candles, incense, and essential oils aren’t just for 14-year-olds. [1:32:29]
  • The problem with the phrase “work-life balance.” [1:35:38]
  • Morning routines. [1:38:19]
  • Favorite podcasts. [1:41:39]
  • With such a high threshold for repetition, does Maria practice any type of meditation? [1:42:05]
  • What’s for breakfast? [1:46:56]
  • A new belief or habit that has changed Maria’s life. [1:48:50]
  • How has Maria managed to keep her ego in check since getting her first sponsorship at age 11? [1:52:06]
  • An unusual habit or an absurd thing Maria loves. [2:02:12]
  • When Maria wins a big tournament, does she celebrate with any favorite cheat foods? [2:03:54]
  • What Maria learned by narrating her own audiobook and other parting words. [2:05:34]

People Mentioned

The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 900 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

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79 Replies to “Mental Performance, Work-Life Balance, and the Rise to the Top – Maria Sharapova (#261)”

  1. Hi Tim, I’m a local GP resident here in SF. I am wondering if you are able to send me info on local providers for Lyme (i have a recent diagnosis). Would love to talk to you more about it. Also, I want to join local acro-yoga groups, I’m new to it and have a good yoga practice but want more, if you have any suggestions. Many thanks!

  2. Hi Tim,

    The lead in quotes are as rocking as the entire podcast 😉 Maria is a world class performer because she uses power, not force, to make her dreams come true. Like most world class folks who enjoy the ride while getting to where they want to be.

    It seems the more I slow down and calm down and to things – practicing writing, creating, connecting, guest posting, and writing comments like these – the water finds its way around the rock, my presence expands and I see greater success.

    The key is being beyond in love with your craft, and devoting a healthy portion of your life to it while still enjoying the offline stuff that helps ya achieve the work-life deal, or balance, or just living a rich life. That’s what folks miss; if you don’t live a rich life, you missed out, because 1 dimensional types rarely see what the world and life has to offer outside of their niche or business or profession.


  3. I usually come on the blog to see a new podcast being released, hoping it would either be about mindset, training or nutrition. If I already know the person you are interviewing it’s a nice bonus.

    After I’ve seen the name of who was actually on this podcast I didn’t even cared much about the subject, I just wanted to download it and have a good listen the next day.

    I didn’t listen to it yet but have to say congrats for going to a top athlete, because we rarely get to listen to them and what their success is attributed to. Many times we just think they practiced since they were a kids and that’s basically it, which is not the case.

    Will probably listen to this tomorrow and leave another comment or an update to give feedback, since I’m a long time listener who’s enjoyed each podcast, even though not all peaked my interest. But hey, diversity is important.

  4. Don’t have expectations. Experience. Great interview. Waiting to hear more on fitness from Maria.

  5. This is a top 10 interview. I will be listening to it again tomorrow. So interesting to hear when Tim had a parenting focused “I got chills” moment. When we have moments of shared ah ha’s is so telling about our own experiences. Anybody want to start a pool on what date Tim will become a Dad? For me the goosebumps came when Maria said “hit the ball against the strings”. Wow, I previously pictured a tennis racket as one object. I never occurred to me to have an interaction with each string of the racket. Then there is the image of the giant racket. Is there something about a huge racket that mentally makes it easier to hit the ball? How big does she see the ball? How big are the lines? Her language is so wonderfully visual. “Putting my eyes on my strings.” I would love to ask Maria to describe what she saw – frame by frame – during the shot she is most proud of…

  6. Tim, have you looked into Cal Newport? Would love to see/hear him on your podcast. If you can work your magic and get him on.

  7. You need to watch two documentaries, forks over knives and what the health, I was following a paleo lifestyle but I am now going to go vegan paleo.

    1. I will comment on this just in case you didn’t know how much hate What The Health received from the simple fact that it was clearly very, very biased. Going vegan paleo isn’t a bad choice imo, but if the reason you would want to go that route is because of What The Health, then you should pay more attention to how the market is trying to sell you something by using false information or data that seems to be actually true.

      PS: This is coming from someone who is keto, which I’ll write more about on my site, but I’m aware almost all types of eating plans work as long as they are giving you the nutrients you need, even if supplementation is necessary, there’s no size fits all.

  8. Great interview. What really got my attention was around 42:00 when Maria described her time at Nick Bollettieri’s academy. She repeated the statement: “I didn’t have X…. I didn’t have Y etc”. She described a period in her life that was very much ‘Spartan’. In addition, without the presense of her mother, or the natural nurturing that comes with a mother being around, she was able to better focus on the end goal. Fewer distractions or needless chasing of ‘shiny baubles’. And coming from Siberia and Russia, on a relative basis, she wasn’t uncomfortable. Makes you wonder whether things might have been different if she had been surrounded by family and more comforts.

  9. Hi Tim

    Great interview. I would like to reach you regarding your blog/post etc. Would you be so kind as to reply to my email?

    Very much appreciated.


  10. Tim,

    Seriously?!? No real effort here on the PED that got her banned for two years (reduced to 15 months) from her sport? Softballs shouldn’t have any place in tennis. The reality is she is one of many athletes who knowingly cheated her way to the top. Tough to understand why there’s no mea culpa here which only asks, how much were you paid by her agency for this?

  11. Tim, don’t skip Siberia (like Maria’s said) when you decide to visit Russia. Only there you can see our real culture, of course, if you are interested in it. Moscow and St. Petersburg will show you a very nice picture, and that is all right. But to see the real life you need to get away from the big cities and dive into simple life, of simple people. Visit Russian sauna, eat some local food, etc.

    P.S. If you ever decide to visit our country, you can always drop me an email. I would be eager to organize a nice stay for you and deep immersion into Russian culture!

    1. I second that! Alexey, where are you from? I am in Novosibirsk and there’s already something of a Tim Ferriss fan club here 🙂

      Timothy, let’s make a GRAND TRANSSIBERIAN TOUR along the longest railroad in the world!

      Through the Western Siberia and all the way to Baikal and Vladivostok to see the Pacific Ocean.

      Winter hunting, fishing, vodka, ancient Slavic and Mongol/Tatar “sports”, amazing culture and scenery:

      Also, will be amazing to have you talk with international students at the NSU ( and check out the famous science center Akadempark, the famous Silicon Taiga!

      Tim, you’re welcome!

      p.s. Masha is the best, of course. Unbelievably sweet, great sense of humor, and stunning. Probably, not a single Russian who doesn’t love her!

  12. This was a good one-thanks- I tried not to dismiss it before ( Contempt Prior to Investigation) and was glad…Learned a lesson – for All future Tim F posts,blogs,Vlogs…

    1. Yeah, but why let little details like that get in the way of cheesy, bite-size, inspirational nuggets? That’s what everyone wants.

  13. Loved the interview in a relaxed, fun and informative atmosphere with this great athlete! Very interesting to hear about her life story, thanks for that!

  14. Another interview that completely smashed my expectations. Love the talk regarding repetition, and consistency.

    Anyone on here use a slant board? Would love to know a protocol for how to incorporate this. Use it with a standing desk? Tim mentioned it “completely changed his lower body performance” (1:31:00) … oh Ferriss you tease.

  15. Hi folks, Can you help me in getting 2-5 seconds from “Timothy “Tim” Ferriss” this Saturday 2nd September 2017 at 8:30PM EST. It will help me change lives of my loved ones? Will explain all the details if you want to know them.

  16. Since Maria won the first round of the US Open, I wonder if she took her own advice and told herself she’d win. Sometimes verbalizing, like she did with you, is enough to remember next time! Mental toughness and belief in yourself is everything in tennis and in life. Loved the interview!

  17. Amazing interview. Agree that it is a top 10! Maria’s so focused…

    Random thought- Tim you were totally smitten by Maria.

    The attraction was apparent. Go for it!

  18. WOW. So much class. You’re proof never to judge a tennis player by their grunt or book by its cover. The depth of your personality, humanness radiates throughout the podcast. You seem so down to earth, a gentle soul, who is intelligent but more important possesses emotional intelligence. Loved how you choose Rich Cohen based on his simplicity. Love your laugh. You’ve gained a new fan for life.

  19. Excellent interview overall, but one big miss. When Maria Sharapova started talking about equality and fighting for equality, you quickly changed the topic. While that was understandable given your wide audience, the miss was that fight for equality is probably part of her incredible fire. By glossing past it, we might have missed a puzzle piece that anyone in an “out group” could use. Or maybe not, but we’ll never know.


    1. I noticed the same thing. Loved how Maria brought it up, even coming from a sport with the greatest equality. I raced as a women professional cyclist, and we look to tennis in striving for equality.

  20. Tim – over the years there have been some great tips and pointers from guests about PARENTING. Have any of these guests shared books they would recommend other parents read? The most interesting themes have included rebelliousness, repetition, playing in bad weather, amongst others.

    Any recommendations you could share based on your cconversations would be greatly appreciated.

  21. Sorry what was the name of the podcast Tim mentioned that has been out only for something like once in a year so far, again? Please.

      1. I tried to find the podcast and it is not available. Any way we can get a link to it or convince Dan Carlin to put it back up?

  22. Yes. Maria has the habit of tapping her fingers on. To her thigh just before receiving serves from opponent..Is she doing aware of this or an involuntary act.

  23. I must say Tim, this has been one of my favourite podcast interviews of yours to listen too. I can’t wait to read Maria’s book as her outlook on life is something we can all learn from. After I survived a spontaneous vertebrael dissection, which led to a basilar artery stroke that left me locked in, I’m determined to use my second chance at life. Anyway thanks heaps from Australia 😊

  24. Tim, Your interview is of course very interesting. But I should point out that, despite the incredible hard work and talent Maria has, she is a convicted cheater who was banned from professional tennis for doping. Relationships are always built on trust, and without that base there is always an asterisk after someone’s name (Lance Armstrong*, etc.) despite their proclaimed greatness in my mind. I learn from people with strong moral character, not those who will do anything to win. The journey – and the vehicle – here are more important than the destination.

  25. Excellent interview, Maria came out very different from what we expect – very smart, honest and bold. No wonder she is the highest paid female athlete in the world for so long!

  26. Unstoppable! Yes, she’s not going to let a little thing like doping and integrity get in the way of her success. Really disappointed you would feature this cheater on your podcast, Tim Ferris.

  27. I heard the podcast and enjoyed it. I liked that she was quite honest about the pros and cons of dedication and enjoyed the approach she had toward meeting people and being open to learning from them, is a fearless approach. Now, a question for you, was reading your 5-bullet Friday and it occurred to me: do you really read a book a week? if so, is baffling!

  28. Hi Tim –

    Thanks for introducing me to the Precision Xtra for Measuring blood concentrations of BHB (a ketone indicator).

    I’m looking for a device that measures hormone levels. Not for fertility reasons, but to compare hormone levels to how I’m feeling.

    I searched Amazon for a hormone measuring meter after clicking on your link.

    No dice. Any suggestions?

    Thanks for your work in this world!


  29. All right Tim, if it’s not already in the works, then you need to get to work. ( Nice work on the show by the way.) This is your girl! Has to be. If it’s not please God strike me down with lightning! She’s the Gabbie to your Laird if I’ve ever heard/seen it. Could totally hear it from you in the interview and obviously this is a shot in the dark. But in the humblest of opinions from a guy who believes he can tell, she’s it man. “You’re so money and you don’t even know it. Now go out there and get them digits from her. I know she digs you!”

  30. Tim, please have have someone contact me regarding sponsoring a podcast. Launching new product(s) (via Shopify) soon. Thanks and love your work mucho!!!!!

  31. Thanks to Tim and Maria for a great podcast.

    I too however, was left wondering why the doping thing and suspension was basically not covered at all. Maria comes off as a very sincere and humble person, and it would have been very interesting to hear her speak about it, to tell her side of the story and how she handled it all.

    Would be nice to see Tim’s comment about why this particular topic was left out, maybe due to Ms. Sharapova’s request?

  32. I so, so loved this interview. Can’t find the words, really. Maria’s energy is so strongly feminine (not to mention: so femininely strong). And then the interaction with you, Tim, … 🙂 Priceless. The openness en respect between you two, the way you influence each other during the conversation… I enjoyed it so much. Talking about inspirational. Thank you!

  33. Another great interview, Tim. I enjoyed the entire interview, but Maria’s comments on surrounding yourself with positive people who inspire you to be your best was my favorite. Thank you for bringing so many motivational interviews to your podcast- you are the best in this field.

  34. What a classy intelligent woman Maria is! My respect only grew for her!

    It was funny to hear that she listens to Dan Harris’s podcast 🙂 I’m his huge fan.

    Btw, in Russian Sharapova is pronounced as SharApova, not SharapOva. It made me cringe when I heard how you said it :)) but seems she doesn’t care or got used to the wrong pronunciation in the US 😉

    Thanks a lot, Tim!

    1. Yeah, I can relate, people do it in US with my name too, I just don’t want to correct every time, I don’t care that much if my name pronounced as ShUrina (Russian way) or ShurIna (US way) 🙂

      It just makes life easier 🙂

  35. Hi, I normally don’t comment on much but felt I should on this. I have read your books and listened to your podcasts for the past few years and this is the podcast that has made me unsubscribe from your stuff.

    This is a promo piece for her that helps promote her book which doesnt bother me too much but it just happens to be released on her entry back into the grand slams (through a wild card) after a drugs ban which gets no mention as it has been ‘talked to death’ as you say. Surely you should use this as an opportunity to discuss why and how she ended up taking a banned drug but you didn’t.

    Also, not this podcast but recently getting the bits that didnt make your tv show as a podcast is disappointing considering the people who listen to your podcast helped to make you popular enough to get a show.

    Anyway, this shouldn’t make much difference to you but you lost a subscriber due to the sell-out nature of your recent shows.

  36. Hi Tim,

    Thanks for all of your work! I was wondering if you have considered interviewing anyone else in the electronic dance music industry, such as Above & Beyond. I would love to see your interviewing wizardry be unleashed on them. What is the best way to post podcast recommendations so the rest of your fans can see it?

    You’re the best,


  37. She’s an American, she knows nothing about Russia. Siberia is the most beautiful and unique part of Russia with a rich history. For example, google Chara Sands, located in my home region.

  38. This was such music to my ears! Fellow Siberian girl making such an epic journey! And loving my favorite cake!!!

    Such an incredible interview!

    Thank you Tim and Maria!

    Will get the book the first day its available!

    Any plans to do barnes and nobles book singing in NYC?

    The lesson Im taking away:

    Greatness takes incredible focus on VERY few things that matter.

  39. Thanks for steering clear of the PED allegations. True or not, we would not have learned as much from her if we focused on it.

  40. please could you interview [Sam Mahon]

    your books, podcasts and thought experiments are my university. endlessly grateful, thank you.

  41. One of the best interview ever. Thanks!

    I always thought that the most beautiful girls on our planet are born in Siberia and grew up in Sochi:)

    It was just a shame that her career was suspended by politicians and sport bureaucrats with all this laughable nonsense about meldonium vitamine.

    The whole story is completely made up and planted, especially since we all know that top US athletes were granted permission from the World Anti-Doping Agency to take banned substances (not vitamins).

    But she acted very smart. No need for revenge. Just sit back and wait.. and Karma will get them back.

  42. Tim–I came across a book titled A Vagabond’s Journey Around the World with a pub date of March 1910 by Harry Franck and I wonder if you own it or if you even know of it? Do let me know and if you’re interested, I’ll be happy to send it your way as thanks for all the great advice you’ve shared with me and the rest of your fans!

  43. Great interview; thank you very much for this and all the other content you share out to the Interwebs. Several times throughout the episode, I kept going back to the thought that this sounded like a very engaging talk with somebody who could be “the one” for you. Never know where life takes you, but best to you always

  44. Great work but shame there was no mention of the drug and subsequent ban by the ITF. This is important imo because I don’t believe she didn’t know it was a known performance enhancer. She seemed genuine in your podcast but I sometimes find that you are not critical enough in your interviews. Ok they are guests but not saints so how about (politely of course, we are all adults and educated here) challenging them once in a while? Thanks x

  45. Hello Tim,

    Thank you for another inspiring podcast, this one is among the best so far in my opinion. I think Maria has a fascinating combination of humbleness and a great will.

    I was surprised to hear that you are thinking about traveling to Russia one day. If you decide to go and prefer something different from an ordinary tour, we have something special: trips across Russia on BMW motorbikes. The most spectacular one is Trans-Siberian: an epic 10,000 km journey which lasts 30 days and gives you a real feel of the biggest country in the world with its nature, culture and people. I do not fully agree with Maria that there is nothing to see in Siberia – most cultural sites are really not that old (up to 300-400 years), but at least the scenery is definitely worth seeing! 🙂

    I am a shareholder of a motorbike tour company (RusMotoTravel) and we would be happy to organize a tailor-made tour for you free of charge.

    So, if you feel like this might be of interest to you, please feel free to reach out to me via email to discuss the details.

  46. Great post! You say that you have published over 250 guest posts, which is impressive. Would be interesting to know how many outreach emails you sent to get that number.

  47. Ferriss drops a Neil Strauss Jedi Mind Trick on her!! “I like to keep my work totally separate from my personal life”.

    They are totally dating.

  48. Great interview as usual by Mr Ferriss. Love both Tim and Sharapova. Especially Sharapova who had to compete with the Williams’s who were much stronger physically but still she came on top. Keep up the good work Mr Ferriss. Please let me know if you are coming to Bali.

  49. Hi, there is a podcast Tim mentioned which sounded something like Wrath of the Cons? I cant find it online and i didnt see it on the references list, can you please share link to that one? Thanks!

  50. Tim,

    I’m so glad I’ve found you. Since I read a piece about you in Entrepreneur Magazine this January I’ve become an avid listener and fan. The gold nuggets of guidance that reveal themselves in your interviews are helping me navigate a transition from a professional contemporary ballet dancer to the business world. After years of training and 10+ years as a professional it’s scary to “leap” into something new. I’ve always looked for a book with all of the answers so to speak, one that would help me not fail, but your work eases my anxiety, and I remember when listening that there is pleasure in the effort and in the journey (and possibly in the occasional failure). I loved this interview! It was lovely to hear from this hyper-focused athlete (and woman), another personal favorite was your interview with Debbie Millman. Thank you again, I’m so grateful for the wealth of information you are providing for all of us!

  51. Whatever you think of the interviewee, Tim always manages to pull out the insights and focus on the life lessons learned. A great story of courage and determination to succeed

  52. I just had to listen this one out untill the last minute. Wow, what a great conversation into the depths of meaningfull things, perspectives, and powerful selfreflection. Love it! Go on Maria! Go on Tim! You both rock the world.

  53. Thank you Tim! This is, by far, one of the best interviews I have ever listened to. What a superb insight, made possible by your expert, polished and natural interview technique and, not least, Maria’s incredible candour. I’m buying her audiobook as a result.

    Keep up the great work, Tim!

  54. Hi Tim, really enjoy your podcasts and all the interviews that you do. I particularly enjoyed your interview with Maria and enjoyed hearing her story. I immediately purchased the audiobook, unstoppable, which I really enjoyed. It’s almost as if it were a Hollywood story. In any case I was wondering if there was a way you could perhaps assist me with getting in touch with her or possibly passing on a message. I found this book particularly touching and it just made me view her in a completely different light. I understand that you do have thousands of mails so this may go unnoticed but hoping you could help.

    Keep up the great work!

  55. Hey Tim, there’s a German loanword “Sitzfleisch” that is perfect to describe the 3rd quality you mention (at time 26:33) that is common among successful youth. It refers to the ability to persevere at tasks, especially tedious ones. It literally translates to “sitting flesh” or “buttocks”.

    I don’t know if you’re already familiar with the term, but I couldn’t help mentioning it since I’m also a pretty (fu#%ing!) avid language aficionado, like yourself.

    Keep the great podcasts coming!