Please enjoy this transcript of my interview with Maria Sharapova, 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. 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. Transcripts may contain a few typos—with some episodes lasting 2+ hours, it’s difficult to catch some minor errors. Enjoy!
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Tim Ferriss: Hello, my little mogwai. This is Tim Ferriss, and welcome to another episode of the Tim Ferriss 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. And 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 No. 1 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 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 million – probably a lot more at this point – Facebook fans, more than 6.5 million, 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 Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Development Program, that’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 Cohen, 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 of 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 a 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.
And you should definitely check out the Human Performance Institute with Jim Loehr. It’s phenomenal. And I’ve been playing my little heart out in tennis, which I have always wanted to do my entire life, for the last two days, and I have a few more days to go. But Maria really piqued my interest in this sport, which I had wanted to do for so, so long and put off. And I realized rather than doing jujitsu and all of 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 sports that I can see the nuances and details when watching on tennis 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.
Maria Sharapova: Thank you.
Tim Ferriss: 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 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?
Maria Sharapova: I do. 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. So I drank black tea, a Darjeeling type of tea that was made in the mountains in Siberia. And I would have it with raspberry jam that my grandmother would make.
Tim Ferriss: That sounds amazing. So would you put the jam on a piece of toast and have it, or –
Maria Sharapova: No, I, actually, put it in my tea. And I still do that. And people look at me very strangely and suspiciously. And I get it. But it’s just so many memories of my childhood. And, yeah, I do that instead of sugar, which is pretty much the same thing.
Tim Ferriss: But it allows you –
Maria Sharapova: It’s a little messier.
Tim Ferriss: It gives you permission. And 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.
Maria Sharapova: Right.
Tim Ferriss: So could you explain what happened exactly?
Maria Sharapova: 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 was not a lot of information about what happened during Chernobyl. My grandparents were living in Siberia at that 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 to being so close to the area. And they left. And that’s why I was born in Siberia.
Tim Ferriss: Your family fled to, I guess, Russia right after the explosion. But you ended up in, I guess, a warmer place, at least depending on the season.
Maria Sharapova: Yes. Much warmer. When we were about 2, my parents realized, ‘This is not going to work out over here.’ And they moved to a resort town, Sochi, where they just had the winter Olympics. And 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 were held and some of the best skiing in the world. My dad still skis there all of the time. So yeah, I definitely – it’s one of the most peaceful places as well.
Tim Ferriss: 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.
Maria Sharapova: Right. I would say skip Siberia, and there’s definitely not much to see or do over there. But I think, from a cultural standpoint, I would definitely visit St. Petersburg. And it is still a place that I’ve never been to, if you can believe it or not, 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 culture and just the city and the people and the way they live. It’s very different.
And people always ask me because I was born in Russia, and I spent the first seven years of my life there, and I’ve lived in the United States ever since, and I’ve never really looked back into living in Russia. But so much of my heart still remains there. Obviously, all of my grandparents and my cousins also live there.
And so it’s a very big part of my life. And 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 are so many opinions you can have about it. And I really just want to let people experience it 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. But St. Petersburg is on my list, and that’s definitely a city that comes highly recommended.
Tim Ferriss: Why have you not been there? And 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?
Maria Sharapova: It’s because of my schedule. I compete 10 months out of the year, and 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 of weeks only in November, I go somewhere warm. I just escape. 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 come into my schedule.
Tim Ferriss: Warmer places, we talked about a few, and, of course, there’s California, there’s Florida, and then, there’s Sochi. So, going back to Sochi, is that where you were first noticed?
Maria Sharapova: Yes.
Tim Ferriss: Can you tell the story of how you were first found, as it were, as it relates to tennis?
Maria Sharapova: Yeah. So Sochi, in the summer, it was very much a happening place. It was a scene, and it 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 of these types of attractions.
And 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. And when I was old enough to go with him – and 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. And I would just follow along. And we’d take the public bus to the courts. And I’d just sit there, and I’d watch him grind it out with a competitor of his.
And then, I’d see all of these little kids playing on the side. And they were just hitting balls against the wall. And 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 I – 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.
And it was very fascinating. It was like 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 and bored and watching my father play. I just wanted to be out there.
Tim Ferriss: Was it a feeling that you could do it more correctly and just something that you intuited that you felt 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 closest 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?
Maria Sharapova: 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 question of, can I do that? I see all of these kids doing it. Do I have the ability to be better than them? And 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 are 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.
And when I got myself out to the wall where all of the kids were hitting the ball against, I remember a coach, there was one coach there, and all of the children were going to see him. All of 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 of when I was playing. And he pulled my father aside and said, “This girl can play tennis.” And 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. And I was about 5 1/2 years old at that time, and 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. And 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, “This legend, Martina Navratilova, just came up to me and said that you’re talented.” And this was only after her watching me just hit a couple of balls in the midst of so many other kids.
And I look back at that because I see so many kids now. I practice at a country club, and there are all of these – just today, I was practicing next to two little girls that are probably 7 or 8 years old just enjoying the game by themselves and trying to hit the ball over the net. And 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 5 1/2 years old is pretty incredible.
Tim Ferriss: Do you have any idea, have either of the first coach or Martina later told you what they saw? Have you any idea of what it was that they picked up on?
Maria Sharapova: I haven’t spoken to Martina about it too much. But the first coach that I had in Sochi when I 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. And 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, we had to cut the grip by like 4 or 5 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, well, what do I do with this now? So I just picture myself there just trying to find a way to get the ball over the net.
And 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 was never a day when I said 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.
Tim Ferriss: This idea that you were able to hold constant in your mind, this fascination of tennis and practice consistently, what did your – 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.
Maria Sharapova: She was studying communications and business. And I had a very interesting childhood because my parents were very young, and they had no knowledge of what to do. I was the first child. I’m still the only child. But they were very careful of what the decisions that they made and where I was going to go and if I was going to go to kindergarten or how long they wanted me to be there. And I spent so many hours in the library with my mother while she was doing her homework. Or she was studying for an exam, and I’d go with my father when he would leisurely play tennis.
My father worked in construction. He had 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.
Tim Ferriss: Did they expose you to a lot of other things 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 toward and really locked onto? Or were you like that with everything?
Maria Sharapova: Well, it happened so fast. And because I had only started picking up the tennis racket when I was 4 years old, at the age of 6 1/2, I was already on an air flight to America.
Tim Ferriss: Right. You didn’t have a lot of time to test things out.
Maria Sharapova: 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 cultural, educational, the learning and the growing-in-your-mind experiences to me.
She would read passages and novels that I was way too young to understand. But she made me memorize a lot of those passages. And 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 really – I would spend an hour in the evening just memorizing these poems by Pushkin and thinking to myself, When am I ever going to use this?
And little do you know, with years, 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. And I think her influence and her ability to acknowledge that as a young mom was so inspirational. And that discipline really comes into play as a tennis player because you have to have so much of it. There’s sacrifice, and there are 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.
Tim Ferriss: So I got chills about 47 seconds ago because I’m looking at the time because I found what I was digging for. And 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 have become really, really good at something really early. And, ultimately, you’ve really mastered anything, even for that age, 10 or 15, 20.
So 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. And No. 2 is a lot of exposure to books. No. 3 was what you brought up, and this was 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, like you said, you’re training that so that it can then be applied to other things.
So you might say, “Why am I memorizing these poems? 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.
Maria Sharapova: 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 are 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’s 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. And you could say, “I don’t want to do it. I want to stop. I don’t want you feeding me anymore balls.” But that mental persistence, I do think you can develop early.
I certainly was able to with the help of my mother. And also when you’re young – she was a very young parent. And with the help of her mother and also culturally, I would say, 30 years ago or 25 years ago, it was very different. And I felt like I was in her cocoon, and I was growing up in her hands, which also I think explains the bond that we have today and the friendship we were able to have from that.
And 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 experience is a very tough and rough childhood where they almost want to escape from what they knew as their family. And it’s 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 and how they were sacrificing so much for myself created this bond within my family that was very important. And it’s priceless. And 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 so many wonders in your life.
Tim Ferriss: Because I feel like your mom is such an important figure and relationship, I noticed that you’ve been reading memoirs written by women. And feel free to correct anything that I get wrong. But, most notably, Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton and Jeannette Walls’s The Glass Castle. And you called them “very strong, tough, emotional books.” What did those two books mean to you? Why were they tough and emotional? What did you take away from that?
Maria Sharapova: 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 face 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. And 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.
Tim Ferriss: Can you explain that just for a second in terms of explaining yourself for equality questions? Would you tell us a little bit more about that?
Maria Sharapova: 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 help of the pioneer, Billie Jean King, was the reason why we make such an incredible living from what we do.
And 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. And when I say that that’s what we have to explain, I believe 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.
Tim Ferriss: 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 it 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 William sisters, Andre 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?
Maria Sharapova: So I think my father’s point of view after that children’s clinic that Martina Navratilova held was: Tennis is 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 of the winter Olympic sports. And one, it was very expensive to find the right coaches, to find the right facilities, especially in the winter time. So the only real option was America. And my father started reading books and studying the game. And he knew that he wasn’t a tennis coach. And he knew that he was a great tennis player.
And 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. And so he started doing research.
And the next thing I knew, just before my seventh birthday, I was on a flight to Miami, Florida. And 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. And Nick Bollettieri was someone that came with a lot of experience and coaching experience.
And 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, and 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.
Tim Ferriss: And what makes that place so special? And I ask because I always wonder, in the beginning, there must have been something special in the sauce because there comes a point where 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 sort of a selection bias? But what makes that place unique in terms of training, in terms of principles, or anything that makes it stand apart?
Maria Sharapova: 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 next 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 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 2 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 very 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 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. At 5 a.m., he’s there on the court. He’s the one that locks the place until this day. And that dedication and that love and passion for what you do, it’s incredible.
I just saw him a few months ago. I spent a few weeks there training 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 going to 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 a 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 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 quiet because, at a tournament, it’s a zoo. I always compare it to being in a cage of a zoo where everyone is around you and taking your picture. And there’s sort of no escape until someone just 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 has brought back so many memories.
Tim Ferriss: So a few things. One, Nick, I’m sorry, I always mispronounce your name anytime I try to say it. I think part of my spirit wants to be Italian, so I try to really throw a spin on it and say – but I always make that mistake.
Maria Sharapova: 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.
Tim Ferriss: Oh, fantastic. 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 broadsword, 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 US.
Maria Sharapova: Yes.
Tim Ferriss: 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 might sound weird, so don’t take it as being creepy, but just 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 the US?
Maria Sharapova: 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 7-year-old girl with a dream to become a tennis player. That’s never going to 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.
Tim Ferriss: The fuel of champions.
Maria Sharapova: Right. Which by the diet these days has changed tremendously. I don’t even know where to look when a 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 that I had in that locker. 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. My father would sit me down on a chair and just cut my bangs straight across. They never looked great, obviously. He didn’t know what he was doing.
So I was always a little off. I didn’t speak English, in the beginning. I was learning through just speaking with all of 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. It was 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 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 p.m., I’d be back playing matches and sets until 4 or 5. And then, I’d have a little bit of homework, and then, I’d have to do it again. And so there was a lot of other interests that the girls had and posters and glitter and pictures and David Hasselhoff and 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.
Obviously, it was very sad to not have that support and not have your mother cut your bangs and stuff instead of your father or him buy you shoes that are so ugly, and 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 shut. 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 it in our minds. But I never remember one time where my father told me that I have to win Wimbledon or that I had to win the US Open. He never made me feel that, if I didn’t, that the world would end. And I always remember thinking that, if this doesn’t work out, and we would go to Russia and that’s absolutely fine because I felt like I had a completely normal childhood when I was living there.
Tim Ferriss: 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?
Maria Sharapova: 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 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 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 of 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, and that I can do that for my dad, for my extended family. And they’re the reason why I’m able to do that.
Tim Ferriss: Is it true that you’ve never used the word rejection or that you don’t believe in that word? Is that true?
Maria Sharapova: Well, 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 –
Tim Ferriss: Okay, please explain.
Maria Sharapova: 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 they made sense, like the easy way out, because he believe that later, he’d have a better opportunity to say yes to bigger and greater things.
Tim Ferriss: Got it. So he said no to the small, shiny objects in front of him.
Maria Sharapova: Well, at the time, I’m sure they didn’t seem so small.
Tim Ferriss: Not small, I don’t mean at the time and perception, but the short term, shiny objects maybe.
Maria Sharapova: Right. So rejection, it wasn’t – there was never – because I always was following and kind of next to my father and seeing the decisions that he would make.
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 that, or I’d win a tournament, and I’d go shopping in a store, and I’d call my mom because there was something quite pricey, and I didn’t know if I could buy it. And 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 won. And so I was always watching and observing.
And they never – rejection, of course, when someone says no to you, it’s easy to say, 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.
Tim Ferriss: It 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.
Maria Sharapova: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: Do you consider yourself an introvert, an extrovert, a blend? How do you think about that?
Maria Sharapova: I think, from a very young age, 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 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, when I was sitting down with my coach. And I think it was before the semifinals of that tournament. And all of 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 wanted a picture with me. And it really came overnight. 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 like, just by beating her, they’re not just winning a quarter final or a final of a 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 going to be that much harder, that much more difficult. And I did. And I don’t know if I could have done it another way.
Tim Ferriss: What were some of the – or what are some of the best practices or decisions that have helped you with that? For instance, my friend Josh that 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 are 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?
Maria Sharapova: 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, I won’t say we want to be like them, but 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. It’s like there’s moments of this that happens, as an athlete, you surround yourself with peoples’ opinions or choices or money and wealth. And it’s very – it’s such an easy distraction.
And I surrounded myself with good people. And the friends that I have today were my friends when I was a young girl, that my manager has managed me since I was 11 years old. And now, my mom is still very much my best friend and another really good friend of mine I met with I was 11 years old as well.
So I have this fondness of developing those real connections with people. And 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. And 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. And 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.
Tim Ferriss: I have some public exposure and have found I’ve made a lot of mistakes and 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. But I can’t even imagine the level. I’m playing T-ball, and you’re in the major leagues in the World Series when it comes to how many people want a piece of you.
And how do you, for instance, assess someone if you 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 –
Maria Sharapova: Because you’ve had a lot of requests.
Tim Ferriss: Well, you’ve had a lot more practice than I have.
Maria Sharapova: I saw that email back you sent. I was like wow. About automatic reply. I was like, oh, my goodness.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah.
Maria Sharapova: I don’t know who is emailing you.
Tim Ferriss: I’m afraid I have 4,091 unread email in my inbox currently. It was released into the wild.
Maria Sharapova: I can’t do that. I need to keep my inbox clean. Then I feel like I have a mess in my head.
Tim Ferriss: We’ll talk about that next. But, in the meantime –
Maria Sharapova: So how do I choose? I think it’s about – I love meeting people, and I love having conversation, and I love being inspired. And you can get so much out of a conversation by exposing yourself to being in an unfamiliar territory. And I’ll give you an example that I felt like it was important because I’m always around the same people.
So I have my team, which is my coach and my fitness coach and my trainer. And we travel. I see them more than my family. We travel probably 260 days out of the year together, breakfast, lunch, dinners, practice, training. We know so much of each other, and then, you have a manager. And then, you come home, and 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 to get that out, it makes you a much more interesting person.
And so last year, I put myself in this position where I had all of this time off. And it was during the summer. And I signed up for these two business courses in Boston at Harvard Business School. And I was one out of the 40 students, I believe, in each of these courses. And I stayed on campus. And these were individuals who were CEOs and COOs of companies, of airlines, of Microsoft, of all of these incredible brands. And 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. And it wasn’t that – 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.
And 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. And 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, and 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. I like to hear opinions. And I got out of that experience in Boston. And I felt like I grew. I felt like I 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. So it was a very interesting experience personally for me.
Tim Ferriss: What I like about your answer, and what I think is healthy for me to hear, quite frankly, is that I frame 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, 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 put it off. And 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 to avoid.”
Maria Sharapova: But 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.
Tim Ferriss: Right.
Maria Sharapova: But you do, in order to – you have to put yourself in a position to find out. And what’s the worst thing that can happen from it? You don’t reply, or you don’t answer, or you don’t get back to them? Okay.
Tim Ferriss: Right. It’s an acceptable cost or tax to pay. Now, so the reframing that you just did, this is, for me right now, in my life at least, the really important stuff. And I suspect this is true for a lot of folks. And I’d love to switch gears a little bit and just ask you about self talk.
So what you’re 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?
Maria Sharapova: I can say there is 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. And when I think about the motivation that I’m able to have until 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. And I’m someone that loves certainty. I love certainty in my life, and I do enjoy having a plan. But that’s not realistic. And 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. And it doesn’t always go according to play. And I don’t always find myself being positive.
But something that I noticed in my mind was actually in the last match I played. And it was in a match where I got injured at the end of it and, actually, I was up in the third set in Rome. And I came into the match being a little bit upset. I was down. And just for other reasons. And I knew 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 instance 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. In the end of the match, I was up I believe it was 2-0 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.
And it was amazing that it just came. This was the question that you just phrased, but it was the last match that I had played. But it happens a lot. I do a very – so 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 –
Tim Ferriss: It doesn’t have to be crazy. What is the pep talk?
Maria Sharapova: I think it’s more of putting my eyes 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 is, ultimately, going to go down the river.
And maybe pep talk is not the right way. 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, and 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. And, in tennis, momentum changes so much just like in life. One second everything is positive, and you get bad news. And someone is leaving the company or someone is not going to work anymore or someone is not healthy. And, all of a sudden, you go from a great day to, wow. And it’s just a 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.
Tim Ferriss: I would love to dig into, specifically, and this is related to serving. And 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. But I’m going to my first tennis camp in the next few months to try to learn to play tennis. And what recommendations would you have –
Maria Sharapova: Don’t do it. Wear sunscreen.
Tim Ferriss: Besides don’t do it because I’ve already 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 of my skull. I can’t even imagine what that looks like. Any tips for the people out there? I’ll de-personalize, not Tim, but actually for Tim. The people out there who would like to be better at serving, do you have any recommendations, dos or do nots?
Maria Sharapova: 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 racket are going to be on the ball itself. So seeing the lines of the ball, visualizing that, will really help you. Kind of maintaining 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.
Tim Ferriss: As a right-hander.
Maria Sharapova: Yeah, as a right-hander, or if it’s a left-hander, then keeping your right arm up. I would say those are the two top things. By the way, I am the worst at coaching.
Tim Ferriss: I don’t believe that. I don’t believe it for a second.
Maria Sharapova: Please do because it’s so true. Someone asked me the other day, “Would you ever consider coaching?” I was like, “Oh, my goodness, no.”
Tim Ferriss: You’re like, I’ve had enough tennis on one side.
Maria Sharapova: I’d probably rather commentate.
Tim Ferriss: I think you just don’t like talking about yourself.
Maria Sharapova: I don’t.
Tim Ferriss: But you are – 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. So where do you think tennis players don’t – 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?
Maria Sharapova: 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? And it, all of a 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 that 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.
And sometimes, that’s all it takes because tennis is a matter of really millimeters. You could do the same thing, and the ball, the wind takes it and it’s long. And if you’re playing in conditions where it’s not windy, you do the same exact thing, and you have the same technique, but it goes in. And one day, you’re cursing at yourself and you’re upset, and then next day, you think you just won a Grand Slam.
So 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. And a lot of it is because tennis is so emotional and it’s so in the moment. And 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.
Tim Ferriss: In addition to the attitude, or layered on top of the attitude – and 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, and let’s just assume they said, ‘The last thing I want to do is tennis.’ And then, at age 20, they’re like, ‘Actually, I want to do tennis’ –
Maria Sharapova: Well, they can just get an instructor.
Tim Ferriss: Just because dealing with a little kid is a whole thing in and of itself. But we could also de-personalize it and just say you were teaching someone you care about, right?
Maria Sharapova: Right.
Tim Ferriss: What would you make sure they get right in the first four weeks? What would you really focus on?
Maria Sharapova: So I think the basic techniques. And 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 Sur, but you turn left, from the beginning, you’re done. And that’s how I’ve always seen tennis is that the mechanics are important, and they need to be easy. Sometimes I see strokes that are so complicated and that are so – the back swing 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 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, 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.
Tim Ferriss: Well, I hate to say it, but I think your next book might be about tennis technique.
Maria Sharapova: I doubt it.
Tim Ferriss: So I’m not going to 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 as I want to. But you have a new book, Unstoppable, which I am, actually, extremely, extremely excited to read. And 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.
Maria Sharapova: Well, I didn’t know that. Now that I’ve just finished reading the audio version, and I know it’s completed, I just took a deep breath, and I said, “Wow.” I have so much respect for every book that’s on that shelf in front of me right now.
Tim Ferriss: You’re like, I can’t believe people do this for a living. Who would ever do that?
Maria Sharapova: But, you know what? About 2 1/2 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 moving to America, about facing my rivals, about my personal life, about all of the experiences that I’ve had in the 30 years that I’ve lived. And I wrote a few paragraphs myself.
And it was interesting because I left a meeting feeling like, Wow, I’m really going to 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 think that everyone’s story is special, and everyone gets to where they are in their own certain unique ways. And 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 going to be gossip? No, who is going to 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.
Tim Ferriss: I am. 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. Rich has written just some incredible books.
Maria Sharapova: Jerry Weintraub’s book was incredible.
Tim Ferriss: And also The Fish That Ate the Whale, which a lot of people have heard of. 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.
Maria Sharapova: 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 is 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.
Tim Ferriss: That’s my guy.
Maria Sharapova: That’s my guy. 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 that just meeting with him for 30 minutes, that he was a genius in his literature. And that’s where his genius has 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 influenced by a lot of male figures. My father, my coaches, Nick Bollettieri, Robert Lansdorp, and my manager. And I wanted Rich to sit down with these people. I wanted him to sit down 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 – he and my father spent over a week together just talking and talking. And it wasn’t even – life talking, stories. 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. And, yeah, he was – we spent so many weeks together. I love the way that he worked. I loved the questions that he would – I just loved the simplicity of him as a human being.
Tim Ferriss: I love the filter also. It wouldn’t have even 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.
Maria Sharapova: 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.
Tim Ferriss: Unstoppable, My Life So Far. Many, you have a lot of decades left.
Maria Sharapova: Well, I wanted it to be called ‘To Be Continued’. And I got shut down really fast. They were 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 – because when I would see memoirs 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 had this vision of calling it ‘To Be Continued’. But they were like, you have to explain what’s inside the pages and not what’s coming out next. And I was like, no.
Tim Ferriss: What you could do…so you could have this Unstoppable, My Life So Far, and 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 things.
Maria Sharapova: I can play with it, I know.
Tim Ferriss: You can play with it.
Maria Sharapova: We have many different titles.
Tim Ferriss: 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 reconstructive surgery and improved mobility and recovered largely.
Maria Sharapova: Good luck with that serve, if you’ve had that.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, I know. Fortunately, it’s on my non-dominant arm.
Maria Sharapova: Oh, that’s good.
Tim Ferriss: 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? Or are there any particular exercises that have made you more resilient against injury? So for injury prevention, what are some of the components of, say, your fitness program that you think have helped most?
Maria Sharapova: 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 we 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 – 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. And 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 warmup 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.
Tim Ferriss: And this is with a Thera-Band?
Maria Sharapova: A Thera-Band, right, yeah. And a lot of it is not even about the weight that you have or the resistance of the Thera-Band, 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.
And 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.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah.
Maria Sharapova: So the consistency of following through and really keeping at it is, for me, always the most challenging thing. And I see people give up on it.
Tim Ferriss: What about for the lower body? Are there any particular exercises that you’d wished you’d incorporated earlier?
Maria Sharapova: So I grew very fast. And that’s something that I speak about in the book as well because none of – no one in my family is tall. I’m the tallest one. And 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 of 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 simple exercises. If you take a picture of them or a video of them, and they’re the ones that you don’t want to post because someone will think you’re not doing anything. You know what I mean? They’re not impressive looking.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, you’re not doing an Olympic weightlifting maneuver.
Maria Sharapova: No. You’re 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. And I work on my core a lot because I do believe it’s the center of your body, and it controls so much of – it puts the body together. It’s like the glue.
Tim Ferriss: If you could only choose one or two core exercises to do, what would they be?
Maria Sharapova: Oh, wow. I love using the TRX band, that yellow band and putting it up – hanging it and putting my feet in it and doing the planks.
Tim Ferriss: Yes.
Maria Sharapova: And then sort of doing bicycles while you’re in a plank when your feet are in the TRX. I like that.
Tim Ferriss: So you’re crossing your midline with your knee.
Maria Sharapova: Yes.
Tim Ferriss: Yes, that’s a fantastic exercise.
Maria Sharapova: That’s a little bit on the advanced side, but I know that your audience can do it.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. And you can also folks, if you 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 sort of push-up height. And you can do something very, very similar.
Maria Sharapova: Exactly. And I do a lot on the physio ball. And that’s always simple. Most gyms have it. Even just the –
Tim Ferriss: Also known as a Swiss ball if people are –
Maria Sharapova: A Swiss ball, yes. There are a lot of terms. Yeah. I like doing all different types of planks or just floor planks and extending your arms or extending your legs one at a time out. So it’s a kind of element of surprise in balance where it’s not just static.
Tim Ferriss: Right. And for those of you who have heard my conversations with Dr. Peter Attia, he is a huge fan of doing different plank motions on the physio ball.
And just to your point about unimpressive exercises, so 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.
Maria Sharapova: Exactly.
Tim Ferriss: So here, here. Now, I’m also looking at them right now, I have a bottle of geranium essential oil, I know it’s not a [inaudible] [01:31:48], but bare with me.
Maria Sharapova: Okay.
Tim Ferriss: I have a geranium because it was recommended to me by somebody 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 over-stimulating 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.
Maria Sharapova: Essential oils?
Tim Ferriss: That’s right. Candles and aromatherapy.
Maria Sharapova: Candles and essential oils. Oh, I still love that stuff.
Tim Ferriss: Are you still into that?
Maria Sharapova: I am. You should see the room that I’m in right now. I have all of these oils and all of these candles. Yeah. Well, for me, it’s about this feeling of being in your home environment and comfort. And that’s something that you don’t get when you travel so much. So when I do, it’s kind of my way of feeling – every morning, I turn on my incense and my candles, and I have my coffee. It’s like the smell of being home.
Tim Ferriss: What’s the go-to morning incense?
Maria Sharapova: 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.
Tim Ferriss: Do you not bring those smells with you when you travel?
Maria Sharapova: I don’t. Interestingly enough, when I go on a trip, I know that that’s my work. I like leaving those things behind 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 are 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 is playing volleyball. And I look at that, and I’m like, it’s hard. It’s definitely hard. 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. And 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 makes my job different. I don’t know if that makes sense.
Tim Ferriss: It makes perfect, 100 percent 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 percent to both things. So I’ve always disliked the phrase ‘work/life balance’ because it implies blending to me. And I like to keep them very, very separate.
Maria Sharapova: Right.
Tim Ferriss: 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?
Maria Sharapova: 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. And it kind of hit home for me when you say 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 that’s the way that everyone should do it. But it’s so much more complicated than that.
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.
And I could give many examples of my personal life as well. But those are choices. Those are your choices. And those are, I think – 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 sacrifice something. If I’m just 50/50, I’m never 100 percent. And I want to be 100 percent.
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.
Tim Ferriss: Right.
Maria Sharapova: And I do think that some people are okay with that feeling, but I am not. And that’s my choice. And 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 that 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.
Tim Ferriss: Now, you have many, many, many choices that are put in front of you. And you have people to help. But I would love to talk about choices in the morning. So first thing in the morning has come up a number of times. And I’m rather obsessed with morning routines. So 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?
Maria Sharapova: It’s different all of the time.
Tim Ferriss: Okay. Is breakfast consistent? For instance, for this week, what is your go-to breakfast?
Maria Sharapova: So I’m in training right now, and I’m getting ready to play all of these hardcore tournaments. And so 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. And so 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.
Yeah. I wake up at 6:30. I usually have to be ready by 9 for practice. So 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 because 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.
Tim Ferriss: Sugarpova.
Maria Sharapova: Sugarpova, right.
Tim Ferriss: Is it true, and I’m not going to interrupt beyond this, but is it true that you were considering legally changing your last name?
Maria Sharapova: It was an idea.
Tim Ferriss: For the 2013 US Open.
Maria Sharapova: It was an idea.
Tim Ferriss: It’s a genius idea, genius idea.
Maria Sharapova: It proved to be very difficult.
Tim Ferriss: So you’re taking conference calls.
Maria Sharapova: Yeah. So I do that work for the first hour or hour and a half with a cup of coffee that I have to have in the morning with lactose-free milk.
Tim Ferriss: What type of lactose-free milk? Sorry, I’m a nerd.
Maria Sharapova: Just straight-on lactose-free milk.
Tim Ferriss: Oh, I see. So it’s not almond milk or coconut milk?
Maria Sharapova: No.
Tim Ferriss: I see, lactose-free real milk. And preferred coffee?
Maria Sharapova: I do an espresso, simple. And I think, for me, it’s all about the foam. So I have to have the right foam. So I do that. And then, usually, when I’m getting ready, I turn on a podcast, and 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 kind of brushing my teeth, I listen to other people share.
Tim Ferriss: What are some of your favorite podcasts?
Maria Sharapova: Well, a good friend of mine is Lewis Howes, so I listen to his. I listen to yours a bunch in the past six or eight months, I would say. Dan Harris’s. I listen to a fashion one. A little bit of everything.
Tim Ferriss: So Dan Harris, this is Dan Harris of 10% Happier?
Maria Sharapova: Yes.
Tim Ferriss: All right. Why do you listen to Dan Harris? Because I was going to ask if you have a meditation practice of any type.
Maria Sharapova: It’s interesting. Someone asked me the other day, “Do you meditate?” And I said, “I don’t, but I really feel like I do because I listen to so many people speak about meditating that I really feel like I do.” I had to think for a second. I almost said yes. And I was like, “No, actually, I don’t meditate, but I listen to people speak about it.” And I have a little bit. I’ve done it, and I enjoy it. Some of it feels a little cultish to me.
Tim Ferriss: 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?
Maria Sharapova: I like to hear about peoples’ 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. So 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 peoples’ experiences. So I think that’s one of the reasons I listen to his.
Tim Ferriss: I think you’ve been meditating your entire life because of your comfort level with repetition.
Maria Sharapova: Right.
Tim Ferriss: I think that is one in the same, in a lot of respects.
Maria Sharapova: The one thing that I’ve, and 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. And 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.
So I do think about just breathing. And that’s not like me sitting in a chair and having thoughts or saying, “Now I’m going to 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 the story that is so far from the truth or the reality.
Tim Ferriss: What would be an example of that?
Maria Sharapova: So say my coach has me – say I’ve studied some video analysis, and he showed me a particular stroke that he wants me to work on or a particular movement. And he says that’s incorrect. And he shows me an example of what he thinks I should do a little differently. And so I go on the practice court. I start doing that. And with repetition, I’m not getting the outcome that I wanted.
And so I plant the story that no, he’s incorrect. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Or that no, actually, this doesn’t feel right. This doesn’t feel natural. If it doesn’t feel natural now, it’s not going to feel natural in a competitive state of mind. And all of those things are completely not true. Those are all things that I’m putting in my brain.
Tim Ferriss: How do you catch that? What do you say in your own head when you catch it?
Maria Sharapova: 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 though those are also not true. But they’re much better than the negative outcome that you’re putting out into the world.
Tim Ferriss: 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.
Maria Sharapova: Okay, I will tomorrow morning.
Tim Ferriss: I recommend starting with 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 will see why. They are incredible. And also, I would be remiss if I didn’t say thank you to Lewis, a mutual friend, who made the introduction.
Maria Sharapova: That’s right. He made this possible.
Tim Ferriss: A very good man.
Maria Sharapova: Yes.
Tim Ferriss: I think we didn’t get around to it because I got all hoppity and jumped in, but right now, you have the espresso with very important foam. You have some conference calls. You take care of Sugarpova and soon.
Maria Sharapova: Then my phone goes in my bag for the next few hours, and I train.
Tim Ferriss: When do you eat? What do you have for breakfast?
Maria Sharapova: I eat probably 30 minutes before I get to practice.
Tim Ferriss: Okay. So for the first 2 1/2 or 3 hours, you’re not having breakfast?
Maria Sharapova: I have a liter of water and a cup of coffee.
Tim Ferriss: Is it special water?
Maria Sharapova: No. It’s Avian water.
Tim Ferriss: Got it. It’s not $27 Southern California water.
Maria Sharapova: No, no.
Tim Ferriss: Got it.
Maria Sharapova: And so 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 of the 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. And I either put some goat cheese on it or a piece of protein or avocado and some berries. And that’s it.
Tim Ferriss: Sounds delicious.
Maria Sharapova: Thanks. Pretty straightforward.
Tim Ferriss: 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.
Maria Sharapova: Well, the thing about rye bread is that I don’t think that it’s so good. I think it’s better than some other breads, but it’s not like sourdough I love, but I don’t eat regular bread that much. So if I was eating a piece of sourdough, I’d probably have three pieces. But rye bread is kind of in between. It’s edible.
Tim Ferriss: It’s digestible and good, but it’s not a Snicker’s bar.
Maria Sharapova: Exactly. But you don’t want too much of it.
Tim Ferriss: That’s a good point. Yeah. No. This is a smart approach. 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?
Maria Sharapova: One thing that I had to go to 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 the sport that I played.
But during that same time, I also realized, and I had a chance to stop and really recognize how and what I’ve really done in my life and in my career to inspire others and to – and I’ve used the word inspire a lot because that’s how I kind of see other people inspire my life. But I had 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 that they admire my spirit so much and that they can’t wait to see me back. And I never had that realization before, which sounds crazy. And but I never really understood, or I don’t think I really understood, maybe it was selfishly, how much I impacted other people.
Tim Ferriss: Did you notice that because PR madness was stressful, and you saw that as a counterbalance? Or why do you think you noticed it?
Maria Sharapova: 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 would just be 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. And 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. And there were chefs coming from the kitchen, and there were pilots coming from the cockpit. And 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 in to 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 didn’t make it, that it would be all right to go back to where we started. It was a very eye-opening moment.
Tim Ferriss: You had your first sponsor, as I understand it, when you were 11.
Maria Sharapova: Yeah, Nike.
Tim Ferriss: So 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.
Maria Sharapova: I will say that I’m a fairly realistic person. And I know I’ve been through a lot. And so I faced a lot of grief, I faced a lot of press, I faced a lot of success, I 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 is, it’s all – a lot of it is superficial, and a lot of it almost seems not human, super human. But behind everything, there’s a very human person. There’s a very normal, there’s a very much simple human being that I’ve been fortunate to make good money for my career.
But those things are never 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 – 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 my cousins can have a proper education. And that feeling is incredible.
But that’s – and that’s a feeling that, of course, money brings you. But, like I said, the relationship that I’ve had with my parents, they’re also very strong people. And they will tell me if something – if they see that something is going on or if my decisions are not correct. And they’re very real. And 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 – maybe, this word maybe is brutal. It’s like 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 that could have gotten me to different places.
Tim Ferriss: What is one of the worst decisions that you avoided making, or one of the best decisions that your parents helped you make?
Maria Sharapova: 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 was a lot of opportunity, especially when I was young, to make what I like to call ‘quick money’. It’s like wire in the bank, you show up for a shoot, and you do it, and you smile, and you leave. And there you are. And that is 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.
One example was with Nike. 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 didn’t know if that was funny or not or if they were making fun at what I was wearing, and I looked at her, and I was like, “Yeah.” And then, she said, “Oh, you’re Maria Sharapova, of course you are. They pay you to wear that.” And I said, “No, actually, you have no idea how happy I am to wear this.”
You kind of 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 followed around – I went into meetings, and I was a little ghost in all of these meetings because I wanted to learn about product development.
Tim Ferriss: That was at Beaverton?
Maria Sharapova: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: Nice.
Maria Sharapova: So I went into these meetings, and I just I wanted to know why a product is dropped and why this material was used and why that material was being developed. And 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 friendship or partnership where you understand the company, and you know the people are the ones that have grown.
Tim Ferriss: 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?
Maria Sharapova: 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 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 like my happy place. When I am able to drive around 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, 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.
Tim Ferriss: What do you like about it? And do you have any favorite types of architecture or architects, any books that have influenced you?
Maria Sharapova: Yeah. Absolutely, from Neutra to Frank Gehry. I love the indoor and outdoor feel, and I love when architects are able to bring nature into a home and make it feel like you’re living outside, but you’re kind of in this cocoon environment. I don’t know if that makes sense.
Tim Ferriss: It makes perfect sense.
Maria Sharapova: But 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.
And 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, at that time, it was like a rich person’s home that had four or five bedrooms. And I had never seen a home that had four or five bedrooms before. And it’s like, what are all of these rooms for? Why are there two dining rooms? Why isn’t one enough? And 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.
Tim Ferriss: What is your personal favorite color?
Maria Sharapova: I love neutral colors, so I love grays and darks, no browns.
Tim Ferriss: Wow.
Maria Sharapova: I don’t want to say black because that’s – a little girl asked me the other day, “What’s your favorite color?” because 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, anytime someone asks me my favorite color, I’m like, yellow. It sounds so much happier than black.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. I guess it’s hard to say to a little girl who wants to draw you something, black like the Grim Reaper’s cape.
Maria Sharapova: Exactly. So I ended up with yellow.
Tim Ferriss: 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? And I’ll give you an example. An example of this. And I asked Cheryl Strayed this question who wrote Wild, which was made into a movie. An amazing woman. And 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 of the avocados are kind of over on one side or whatever, she’ll reopen it and rearrange it so that every bite is the same. So I’m not saying that 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?
Maria Sharapova: There are a few random things. I always put my left shoe on before my right. And not just a tennis shoe but any shoe. When I’m in a shoe, and I’m trying shoes, and they hand me a right shoe, and I’m like, I’m sorry, I’m fine with opening the box again myself. But 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.
Tim Ferriss: So now, does that mean –
Maria Sharapova: I don’t want to wear the same exact one. I’ll wear the same looking outfit, but I have a few different ones.
Tim Ferriss: Got it. Okay. But never the exact same outfit again?
Maria Sharapova: No.
Tim Ferriss: I love it.
Maria Sharapova: Not in that same tournament.
Tim Ferriss: When you win a huge – 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?
Maria Sharapova: I love sweets. I love dulce de leche.
Tim Ferriss: Oh, my God.
Maria Sharapova: I love we have this cake in Russia, it’s called the medovik. It’s a honey cake. I could eat that every day for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Tim Ferriss: Is it like baklava, or is it different?
Maria Sharapova: No. It’s not as crunchy. It’s a soft cake. It’s a layer cake, but it’s a soft cake. I love cherry – when my grandmother makes cherry jam, I could eat that by the spoons. That’s a good childhood memory. Yeah. So I love sweets.
Tim Ferriss: Well, it makes sense for Sugarpova.
Maria Sharapova: For an athlete, right? It makes a lot of sense.
Tim Ferriss: Well, it’s great for glycogen replenishment. So for those people wondering, dulce de leche, also known as the crack cocaine of Argentina, delicious on vanilla ice cream. And if it’s going to keep other people up until 4 in the morning because it will drive them nuts, RDLs, Romanian deadlifts, right?
Maria Sharapova: Yes.
Tim Ferriss: Just so that it doesn’t bother anybody. Maria, this has been so much fun.
Maria Sharapova: Thank you.
Tim Ferriss: I really appreciate you taking the time.
Maria Sharapova: Oh no, thank you so much.
Tim Ferriss: And I really encourage people to learn more about your story. I cannot wait to read Unstoppable. And people can find you at mariasharapova.com, 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?
Maria Sharapova: 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. And so keep listening.
And I’m so really excited about the opportunity that I have to share my story with other people and to share my journey. 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 it’s a big – I’ve always been a very personal and private individual. So it’s sort of a big moment for me because I share a lot of frame of mind that I had as a young girl, 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.
Tim Ferriss: And A) congratulations, B) we talked about toughness as one of your defining competitive advantages. The fact that you recorded your own audio book.
Maria Sharapova: Oh, my God. I was like no one is giving me enough credit for this.
Tim Ferriss: Oh, my God. You think walking through or running a marathon in the desert with no water is hard. Recording an entire audio book –
Maria Sharapova: I had to take a couple of 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.
Tim Ferriss: Good God.
Maria Sharapova: And 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.”
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. It is one of the most comprehensively exhausting experiences you can imagine, which is why I’ve never recorded one of my own audio books. I’ve done bits and pieces, and then, I’ve tapped out.
Maria Sharapova: Well, what I liked, at the end of it, was that, after I read it, and when you read it out loud, I didn’t want to change a single thing. And that was when I –
Tim Ferriss: That is incredibly rare.
Maria Sharapova: That was a big milestone.
Tim Ferriss: Incredibly rare, which means that the book has to be really, really good. That is a really clear – no, no, I’m telling you. That’s a really, really clear indicator. If you didn’t change, A) that 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.
Maria Sharapova: Absolutely.
Tim Ferriss: So I’m excited to check it out. Everybody check it out, 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.
Maria Sharapova: Of course. Thank you. I appreciate it.
Tim Ferriss: And to everybody listening, you can find the 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.
Posted on: May 30, 2018.
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Who was interviewed? Here's a very partial list: tech icons (founders of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Craigslist, Pinterest, Spotify, Salesforce, Dropbox, and more), Jimmy Fallon, Arianna Huffington, Brandon Stanton (Humans of New York), Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Ben Stiller, Maurice Ashley (first African-American Grandmaster of chess), Brené Brown (researcher and bestselling author), Rick Rubin (legendary music producer), Temple Grandin (animal behavior expert and autism activist), Franklin Leonard (The Black List), Dara Torres (12-time Olympic medalist in swimming), David Lynch (director), Kelly Slater (surfing legend), Bozoma Saint John (Beats/Apple/Uber), Lewis Cantley (famed cancer researcher), Maria Sharapova, Chris Anderson (curator of TED), Terry Crews, Greg Norman (golf icon), Vitalik Buterin (creator of Ethereum), and nearly 100 more. Check it all out by clicking here.