Tennis champion Maria Sharapova is returning to her roots to try something new during the Winter Olympics in Sochi, the town of her childhood.
“It’s not an easy job and it’s my first time doing it,” she said at today’s opening of a pavilion to promote Samsung Electronics Co. (005930) products at the Olympic Park. “I’ve traveled all over the worked and done so many interviews, and now I’m on the other side of the camera.”
Sharapova, who has won each of tennis’s four Grand Slam tournaments and currently is ranked fifth in the world, spent four years as a child in Sochi, which was a summer resort in the Soviet era. She was born in Siberia and moved to the Black Sea town with her family when she was 2. She got her first tennis racket two years later, before relocating to the U.S. in 1994.
“This is where I started playing my sport, so that is the most meaningful thing for me,” she said in a brief interview as bodyguards rushed her out of the Samsung pavilion.
Sharapova said she remembers swimming in the sea as a child and that “it is quite surreal” to see all the changes to her hometown brought by the Olympics.
“I love the beauty of the city, I love the nature of the city,” she said. “It’s so special and meaningful for me to be here.”
Sharapova said few Americans knew about the town of 400,000 before the build-up to the Olympics, and she’s glad to be able to show it off to television viewers in her adopted country.
“No one knew where it was on the map, no one could locate it,” she said. “When I heard that the Olympics would be here I was so happy because I would hope that people would finally know about this city, because I always believed it was special and unique.”
The 6-foot-2 (1.88-meter) Sharapova, whose high heels make her significantly taller, said she grew up in Sochi fascinated by skaters and that she would have liked to be on the ice if she were a Winter Olympian.
“I probably would be a figure skater, but I grew a little too much for that,” she said with a laugh.
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