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Being sick and watching tennis, not so much.” It was a reminder that Sharapova has a peculiar relationship to the sport she has been at or near the top of since winning Wimbledon at seventeen—and that made her the highest-paid female athlete in the world for eleven years in a row.Curled up on an enormous modern gray sofa wearing no makeup, hair pulled back in a loose knot, Sharapova comes across not as the ferociously competitive Russian tennis player that she is but more as a California girl who does a lot of yoga.But trying to get out ahead of the scandal seemed to work against her; the condemnation was swift, opprobrium raining down on her via Twitter, while the sports press rushed pieces online with headlines like “The tennis world turns their back on Sharapova.” Current and former players called for her head, some suggesting that she should be banned for life. so it’s hard.”Sharapova admits that she doesn’t know a lot of players personally.Jennifer Capriati said she should be stripped of her 35 titles. Dominika Cibulková said in an interview, “She’s a totally unlikable person, arrogant, conceited, and cold.” Andy Murray’s former coach Brad Gilbert, among others, was galled by the stupidity: “Still stunned that nobody on Shazza team checked new list from WADA, players are responsible but this is big-time oversight on team as well.” Martina Navratilova may have been the only one in the tennis world who gave her the benefit of the doubt: “Seems 2 me to be an honest mistake.” But it was Chris Evert, on ESPN, who speculated as to why Sharapova had become both a punching bag and pariah overnight, explaining that she has no friends on the tour: She “has always isolated herself from the rest of the tennis world . “I spend as little time in the locker room as I can get away with,” she says, “because I’ve set up another life. And the less time I spend there, the more energy I have for them.I’m respected for what I do on the court, and that’s much more meaningful to me than someone saying that I’m a nice girl in a locker room.” It’s the kind of quote that reminds you why Sharapova, who likes to “describe things as they are,” is never going to win Miss Congeniality.“She’s a very private person—as private as you can get in the position she’s in,” says one of her best friends, Sophie Goldschmidt, a British woman twelve years her senior who works in sports marketing.
There are large paintings by Joe Goode and Chris Gwaltney; a floor lamp topped with a white-feather shade that, when lit, looks like a giant peony; and a framed black-and-white photograph of a very young Marilyn Monroe.“Maria does keep to herself, as do a lot of other tennis players,” he says, bringing up the fact that Sampras was famously standoffish.“She’s merely trying to do as well as she can within the structure that makes her work best.” It’s a bit of a double standard: No one begrudged Sampras the structure that made him work best.And I’m fairly certain no one ever described him as “cold.”Let’s face it: As doping scandals go, Maria’s is minor league. Whether or not you choose to believe Sharapova about why she was taking the drug—one that she knew by one of its many trade names, Mildronate—it was perfectly aboveboard to use it until it was banned.Indeed, the whole thing sort of boils down to a missed message.