Thursday, August 17, 2017

The Point: Maria Sharapova is....

Sometimes tweets can be misleading. For most people, that is not news—real or fake—but a Twitter review of "The Point," an IMG Film about Maria Sharapova had me excited to learn more about the life, suspension and return to tennis for the Russian star. Currently ranked as the 148th player in the world Sharapova felt no differently, as reported on IMDB. She wrote, 
Excited to share with you a documentary piece that was filmed about my 15-month journey to get my career back. It's a strange feeling having a crew follow you around—it's almost like your shadow. I opened up a lot on camera which is pretty scary.
I was curious as to how she would tell her side of the story. I wanted to know how she would explain her unknowing use of the banned substance—mephedrone. I was anxious to get a sense of why in 2016 and several years prior she was Forbes' highest paid female athlete in the world. I had my suspicions....and hoped for more. What did I find? Disappointment and and yet, a little more. In unexpected places and events, I encountered grace and beauty and in her written word, her confidence, class, and clarity. Thank you, Maria.

I wish I could blame jet lag as the reason I kept falling asleep during "The Point." But, considering how I blew through "The Keepers," I'm afraid my disinterest in the movie was due to a lack of meaningful content. As a sports fan and a former tennis player, it's no stretch for me to watch and enjoy a pro partake in his or her craft. Sharapova need be no exception. She is long and lean, strong and stalwart, but apart from her game, I found her to be distant and unrelatable. She attempts to humanize her plight...opening up to her struggle since failing the drug test after the Australian Open and yet, I was unable to muster much if any sympathy for her.
Sharapova literally has a team working for her: a coach, a physio, a personal assistant, agent, hitting partner and even a chef (you have no idea how much I would love one of these!). For Sharapova, let alone any one of her team members we see throughout the film to not know what she is taking and what is on the list of banned substances is unacceptable. She is not a victim. In the opening scene, she tells the camera "I am strong. I am going to prevail. I know that my honesty and my truth will get me through this." Through what remains unclear....being used as an example by the ITF of what can happen if any athlete does not comply? Through owning up to using PEDs? Please do. I do not recommend this movie; the trailer will suffice.

With her 15-month suspension underway, Sharapova must now apply for a wildcard entry into tennis tournaments. Both Wimbledon and the French Open denied her request. Bank of the West at Stanford University, however, did not. Good, bad or otherwise, I have to admit my curiosity was piqued. Ever the optimist, I wanted to discover for myself if I might find something charismatic or inspiring in her game. I wondered if what I saw in the film would prove to be ever more true to life. What I found was different.

I met Maria Sharapova on Sunday, July 30, the night before the tournament began. She had a small and personal press conference that I was able to attend. Just three hours earlier, I read "Into the Unknown" a piece she wrote for the Players' Tribune (and released just two days prior). My new favorite and not so guilty pleasure, The Player's Tribune offers first personal testimonials; think of it as an extended Tweet. In her writing, I found the same Maria that I encountered on the silver screen...but I so found keen insights and that depth, we hope all people have. I'm not interested in her interpretation or explanation of "her time away." I was however fascinated by how she describes the game. Why she loves tennis. What the tour has taught her. How she keeps in the fight. In fact, the conclusion of her article nearly took my breath away, it is so unconventionally spiritual. 
I realized that, as much as I yearned while I was gone for the comfort and routine of my old life as a tennis player — what I yearned for even more was the discomfort, I yearned for the feeling that tennis gives you, of … it’s hard for me here to think of just the right phrase. Maybe it’s tough love. How tennis will isolate you, and exhaust you, and wear you down, and test your resolve, in some of the most brutal ways possible. But if you can just make it through … then it will also reward you in ways that are beyond compare. If you love tennis enough, then at the end of the day, it will love you back.
In the few moments I had with Sharapova, I told her how much I enjoyed her writing. She stopped and looked me in the eye. We discussed the process of writing and why she enjoys it. I encouraged her to keep at it and she smiled. "My book is coming out this Fall," she said. "I know...I can't wait," I replied. I think I meant it.
And THAT is the real point. We all must find our own voice....if we can...and do....find the venue for it. For Maria Sharapova, modern media wants movies, photo shoots and glam shots. I hope she stays with the written word and of course, her game....which by the way, I never got to see in person. Sharapova withdrew from the tournament after the first round due to a forearm injury. Next year....

Photo Credits
The Point

Press conference

No comments:

Post a Comment