Maria grew up in Russia, where she commonly drank Darjeeling Black Tea that was made in the Siberian mountains, mixed with rasberry jam
Her parents were from Gomel, Belarus which was near the Chernobyl reactor disaster. In 1986, her parents fled to Siberia where Maria was born.
When Maria was 2, her family moved to Sochi, Russia
Her mother was very young (she had Maria when she was 20) and studied communications/business while Maria first learned to play tennis. Her father worked in construction.
When she was younger, her father would take Maria with him to the local tennis courts in Sochi to watch him play. She also watched other kids hitting balls against the wall. From there, she became fascinated with tennis (~age 4).
Maria thinks she was noticed because of her severe tenacity and focus at such a young age. She had a determination of playing better and better every day, something you can’t really teach.
Discipline and Repetition
Maria’s mother used to make her memorize passages and poems by Alexandr Pushkin, which instilled a sense of discipline in her, crediting it to her success in tennis. This sense of repetition allowed her to carry that over into the way she practiced.
Tim has noticed 3 things of the many people he’s interviewed for the podcast
Many of their parents talked to them about subject matter above their intellectual level when they were young
They were exposed to many books growing up
Their parents guided them towards developing a tolerance for repetition, just like Maria memorizing poems
The mental persistence Maria developed, allowed her to tolerate the many tedious hours of practice and perfecting her game
She gets inspired by women who are brave, smart etc.
Equality has been a big subject in women’s tennis for many years, and Maria commonly has to deal with equality related questions in interviews
“We’re not only fighting to win a tennis match, we’re fighting to be an example”
Maria doesn’t feel women have the amount of support they should be getting and tries to inspire women through her tennis game
Tim – “To help the greatest number of people, become an example”
The Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy
At a very young age (7), Maria ended up at the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Miami which has produced the likes of the Williams sisters, Boris Becker etc.
Tennis was not that big in Russia at the time when Maria was getting started
Her father knew he couldn’t coach Maria alone, and sought better coaches, so they went to the US (her mom couldn’t come because of visa issues)
What makes the academy unique?
There’s not much else to do there, no distractions
There’s great competition, Maria played many kids who were older and better than her (she was so young originally, she wasn’t even allowed to board there)
Nick was a great coach, who really valued all the players
“To be in an environment of everyone training with a purpose, it makes you better”
Now, Maria likes to practice alone without spectators in quiet environments
She was commonly teased when she first arrived
She originally felt like an outcast and didn’t speak English, causing her to feel very alone
Because she was as young as she was, she had different interests than the other girls at the academy (she recalls keeping a giant jar of animal crackers in her locker)
“The mission I was on was very different. It wasn’t that I had or didn’t have to be a champion. It was that I was learning and growing to be a better tennis player.”However, she felt this was the path she was meant to be on, which helped her persevere
Her routine at the academy – wake up at 6am, practice, 30 min. nap at noon, then matches until 5pm, then homework
She spent her first 2 years in America without seeing her mom at all
Never Use the Word “Rejection”
There were many situations where her father showed the ability to say “no”, for better opportunities in the future
When you open up an opportunity from rejection, you’re turning that “no” into something that brings you to a better place
How does she handle the influx of people who want to meet her and how does she choose who to spend time with?
“You can get so much by exposing yourself to an unfamiliar territory”
Last summer, she took two business courses at Harvard. Just by being the least knowledgeable person in the room, and being uncomfortable, she grew in many ways
“The people I choose to be with, are the people I want to learn from”
Maria has noticed that when she has an “I will” mentality, her game is much better compared to when she has an “I can’t” mentality
“No matter what rock is in the way, what storm is on the way, the water’s ultimately going to go down that river”
She envisions herself on this river, and as long as she has an “I will” mentality, shes going to do well
Recommendations for serving
More eye contact with the ball
Don’t take your eye on the ball to see where it’s going
Where do novice tennis players waste time? And where should they spend more time?
They spend too much time on the outcome
Your swing should be controlled and compact, it shouldn’t look like this super complicated movement
In the last few years, what is a new belief or habit that has improved your life?
During her recent suspension, she’s gotten to realize how much she has really inspired others through tennis
She claims she noticed this during that particular period, because so many more people had the courage to speak with her
Being sponsored by Nike at such a young age (11), how did she manage to keep her ego in check?
“Behind everything, there’s a very human person”
“I’ve been fortunate to make good money from my career, but those things are not the things that make me the happiest”
What makers her happiest is taking care of her parents and grandparents
There were many opportunities when she was younger to make “quick money” through various branding, but she thinks the best decisions she’s made are based on real partnerships founded on mutual understanding
If she had to give a TED talk for something she wasn’t known for, what would the subject be?
She loves when architects are able to bring nature into a home
Unusual habit or absurd thing she loves?
She always puts her left shoe on before her right
She never wears the exact same outfit again when she does well
When she wins a big tournament, what does she celebrate with?