Sharapova about Grigor Dimitrov #unstoppable
In October 2012, as I walked off the court
after my quarterfinal match in Beijing, I checked my phone and there was the message
from Max. “Thanks,” I typed back, just as I do every time.
Ten minutes later, I got a second message, which surprised me. Max was in Miami, and
it was 4:00 a.m. there. Shouldn’t he be asleep?
“Grigor Dimitrov wants your number.”
I looked at my phone surprised, and may I say excited? The phone went back in my
pocket, and I went through my ten-minute cooldown on the bike, followed by fifteen
minutes of stretching while my coach was in my ear, talking to me about the match. But
my mind wasn’t really with him, which is nothing new, because Thomas Högstedt—he
was coaching me just then—talks too much after a match, more than anyone needs. I took
my phone out, and now I had a new text message from Max. It was the same thing:
“Grigor Dimitrov wants your number.”
Why two messages? Did Max think the cell service was bad in Beijing?
I typed back: “For what?”
Max: “For what? Are you fucking stupid?”
I googled Grigor’s name to find his age. Was he even legal?
“Give him my e-mail.”
I remembered noticing a kid walking through Wimbledon village, tall, skinny, and
carrying a type of good-looking grin that says he knows he is good-looking. I remembered
telling my coach, “Thank goodness he didn’t exist in my generation, that would have been
dangerous. Dangerously distracting.”
A few back-and-forths with e-mail, and Grigor asked for my number.
I played hard to get and gave him my BlackBerry messenger PIN. Then my cell
number. Our messages turned into phone calls, our phone calls into Skype calls. It was
very simple and genuine. I didn’t think too much of it until, after one of our phone
conversations, he dialed me back thirty seconds later and said, “I’m sorry, but I miss your
voice. Can we speak for a few more minutes?”
I didn’t know his ranking at the time.
Our Skype conversations continued. My mom started calling them my therapy sessions
because, at the end of each, I always had a smile on my face.
Something about Grigor’s tour schedule confused me—he was getting to Paris too
early for an indoor tournament in Paris. It didn’t make sense to me.
What would he be playing before the main draw began? I quickly opened a muchdreaded
application I have on my phone called Live Scores, which has live scoreboards
from every tennis tournament being played around the world, including all the tournament
draws. I spent way too much time on NBA.com during my three years with Sasha,
searching for minutes played, point percentages. I wasn’t ready for another round of that,
not so soon. And yet here I was, again.
I checked the main draw. Grigor’s name wasn’t there. I moved on to the qualifying
draw. There he was. Ranked sixtieth in the world. Next thing I knew, I was peeking at the
live scores of qualifying matches.
It was all long distance until one night he arrived at my doorstep with red roses and a
giant teddy bear.
We spent a lot of time together over the next few weeks.
Within days he asked me if I would be his girlfriend. It caught me off guard. I wasn’t
ready for anything like that. He said he would wait until I was ready.
“Who is this person?” I asked myself.
I looked at him, wonderingly: Why is this handsome guy, who could be playing the
field, waiting for a woman who is not ready to be in a relationship?
“OK,” I said, “but I don’t know when I will be ready. It might be months.”
“OK,” he said. “I’ll wait. I know what I want and I want you.”
Weeks rolled into months and there was nothing that could stop us. I watched him
grow, triumph, suffer setbacks, recover. Up and down. I loved watching him play so much.
I would find myself sitting on a rubber chair, on Christmas Day, watching him practice.
Just me; my best friend, Estelle; him; and his hitting partner on a sunny California day that
felt nothing like Christmas.
I watched him climb through the ranks. I watched him go from dumpy hotels by the
highway in Madrid—the sort of hotel even the rats avoid—to a suite at the Four Seasons
in Paris, the Carlyle in New York. I watched him go from being a kid who was reluctant to
spend a little extra on an upgrade to economy-plus while flying to Australia, to being a
man boarding a private jet provided by a new billionaire friend. After one of my matches
in Brisbane, he gave everyone on my team a white crisp collared shirt with a note wishing
that one day he could have a team like them. And before we were through, he did. I
watched him grow into his own person, a person who makes his own decisions; I watched
him shift into manhood.
Grigor has been called the next Roger Federer, the next this, the next that. He’s been
ranked as high as eighth in the world, and has so much potential. He has beautiful strokes.
The way he hits the ball, then slides, even on hard courts, is inspiring. He can do amazing
things with his body. It’s a gift and also a curse. It’s gotten in his way, this need not only to
win but to look beautiful doing it. It has to be perfect or he does not want it at all. It has to
be unbelievable or forget it. That’s why he’s yet to fulfill all that potential. What sets the
great players apart from the good players? The good players win when everything is
working. The great players win even when nothing is working, even when the game is
ugly; that is, when they are not great. Because no one can be great every day. Can you get
it done on the ugly days, when you feel like garbage and the tank is empty? That’s the
question. I’ve been close to flawless on a few lucky afternoons—I can count them on one
hand—but it’s usually a question of figuring out how to win with whatever I’ve got. There
are so many matches that I’ve won just by figuring out how to sneak by. Grigor has yet to
learn how to do that. It’s like if it’s not easy, if it’s not perfect, he does not want to do it.
Grigor recently told me—we were talking on the phone after he’d reached the
semifinals of the Australian Open—that one of the worst things in life is when you have
the right thing at the wrong time. It made me think of an evening we spent before the 2015
Wimbledon tournament. He had reached the semifinals the previous year by beating Andy
Murray; he lost to Novak Djokovic in four sets in that round. He pulled out a book that
Wimbledon puts together of previous championships. He quietly flipped through the pages
of the book until he found a picture of me, in his box, watching his match.
He looked at me, sad—I thought I saw tears in his eyes—“Did you see this? This
means everything to me. Seeing you in my box next to my mother.”
It was then, at that moment, that the emotional pull I had been fighting came to an end.
I knew, and so did he, that I couldn’t be that person at this time of my life. I was supposed
to be focused, getting prepared for my own matches, my own triumphs and defeats, on the
largest stage of my career. I had been watching his match that day only because I’d lost
early at those championships. So his good memory was my bad memory. What meant
everything to him happened only because I had lost. Like he said, you can have the right
thing, but it might come at the wrong time.