A pro athlete really dies twice. At the end, like everyone else, but also at somewhere closer to the beginning, when she loses the only life she’s ever known.
While I have been known to seldom read nonfiction, every now and then I find myself curious to read the autobiography/memoir of a certain famous person, specially an athlete, whose life and career I deem interesting. I think that behind one’s success often lies an extraordinary and inspirational story which proves that anything that might initially seem impossible to achieve we can make it possible when the self-belief and willingness are strong enough and we are surrounded by people who desire to help us succeed. Maria Sharapova’s life story is a perfect example to illustrate that. Although I have never been a fan of Sharapova’s detached and arrogant on and off the court demeanour, her sometimes sarcastic remarks about other players and her loud and well known grunting, I strongly believe that she is a valuable asset to the tennis world and history, even after the big and ongoing controversy surrounding her 2-year suspension by ITF (eventually reduced to 15 months) and subsequent return to the WTA tour.
When Maria started working on this book she was seriously thinking about retiring from professional tennis in the near future. Her memoir was therefore meant to be a farewell. Her career obviously took an unforeseen turn at the beginning of 2016 when she received an email from ITF in which she was informed that she had tested positive for meldonium at the Australian Open and that she would be suspended from competion immediately.
In the intriguing prologue Sharapova describes the moment when she read the email from ITF and the different reactions she was overwhelmed by: shock, frustration, injustice. After researching on meldonium (known to her as mildronate and taken for medical reasons since 2006), a substance believed to be performance-enhancing, albeit not scientifically proven, and banned in sport since 1st of January 2016, she reached the conclusion that even though she was culpable for not checking the new list of prohibited drugs, she in no case deserved to be called a cheater and suspended for a 4-year period. All these unfortunate events reignited her passion for tennis and desire to return to the WTA tour as soon as possible and consequently she decided to fight against ITF for a reduced ban. Unstoppable turned out to be not a farewell, but rather an assurance that Sharapova is back in the game and motivated to reach the top once again. From this perspective I would personally interpret the title choice some people have complained about.
It is important to know that although the subject of her suspension necessitated a revealing discussion, it only accounts for a small part of the book. The first half is mainly about Sharapova’s introduction to tennis at the early age of 4 in Sochi, her father’s decision to immigrate with his little girl to the U.S. so that her talent could be properly harnessed, the financial and tennis-related difficulties they had experienced during the first years living in Florida and how they managed to overcome some of those problems by benefiting from certain people’s benevolence, her WTA tour debut and Wimbledon win at 17 years old, when she defeated Serena Williams in the final.
The tennis parent is the will of the player before the player has formed a will of her own.
In the second half of the book Sharapova continues to talk about the most prestigious tournaments she has won, the coaches she has hired or fired, her fierce rivalry with Serena Williams, the shoulder reconstruction surgery she underwent in 2008 and subsequent rehabilation, her relationships with Sasha Vujacic and Grigor Dimitrov.
Unstoppable is a well-written and heartfelt memoir which, as an avid tennis fan, I enjoyed immensely. I truly appreciate Sharapova for having the courage to open her heart to the public and speak very frankly about arguably the most difficult and emotionally consuming year she has experienced as a tennis player and public figure. I must admit that she grew on me both as an athlete and a mere human being and I am looking forward to seeing what she will be able to accomplish now that she resumed her tennis career. I found her autobiography unputdownable and I highly recommend it to those who love tennis just as much as I do, but also to the readers who are interested in an excellent and memorable autobiography/memoir.