MOSCOW - Agence France-Presse
Maria Sharapova of Russia celebrates winning the final against Sara Errani at the French Open at Roland Garros in Paris. EPA photo
Russia yesterday lavished praised on its “legendary” tennis star Maria Sharapova after her French
Open victory, the highpoint of a career that took flight when she left her homeland aged seven.
President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev
sent congratulatory telegrams to the Florida-based star while the country’s tennis chiefs hoped she would now bring gold for Russia
at the London Olympics.
Sharapova cruised past Italy’s Sara Errani 6-3, 6-2 to win the French
Open final on Saturday and seal a rare career Grand Slam of winning the four biggest tournaments in the sport during her career.
“You have reached the peak which was conquered earlier only by the world’s strongest and legendary tennis players -- the wining of all four Grand Slam events,” Putin said in his message to Sharapova.
“This is a deserved award for your talent and outstanding work,” he added.
Medvedev offered his congratulations to the tennis player on his Facebook page. “You showed magnificent play there. All of Russia, millions of your fans across the country supported you and wished you to win there.”
Russian fans have always been unstinting in their support of Sharapova, known affectionately by her short name “Masha”, even though she is resident in the United States and rarely comes home.
Sharapova has also made clear her loyalty to her home nation, competing in the Fed Cup and almost always wearing a necklace with the cross of the Russian Orthodox
Church when she plays.
Her life story has been extraordinary and is shadowed by the world’s worst nuclear disaster at Chernobyl in then Soviet Ukraine
Her parents were originally from Belarus. However shortly before Maria was born they moved to Siberia to avoid the effects of the nuclear disaster.
Sharapova was born in the remote northwestern Siberian town of Nyagan. The family then moved to Sochi on the Black Sea
where her talent was discovered.
Barely speaking English, her father Yuri then took her aged seven to attend the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy in the United States.