Moscow: Maria Sharapova is a "real Russian patriot" despite her US lifestyle, Russia's tennis chief Shamil Tarpishchev said Thursday. The Florida-based sporting icon faces occasional criticism that she pays too little attention to her homeland, playing the Fed Cup only when it suits her Olympic qualification aspirations. "Despite the fact that she was raised in America, Maria is a real Russian patriot," Tarpishchev told R-Sport.
Sharapova, 25, was born in the Western Siberian town of Nyagan but moved to the United States when she was seven. She has since been absorbed into US pop culture, often appearing on chat shows where tennis talk is little more than an icebreaker for the more meaty themes of fashion and style. And despite Sharapova being one of the world's top-earning female athletes with sponsorship deals taking her income into tens of millions of dollars, Tarpishchev insists that fame and fortune have not changed her.
"Sharapova is all about the image," he acknowledged. "But this is one fantastically gifted player ... These contracts don't knock her, she doesn't suffer from the dizziness that can come with stardom." As Russia's Fed Cup captain, Tarpishchev has to manage Sharapova's whims when it comes to representing her home country.
She was accused in some quarters of only playing in 2008 and 2012 to get into Russia's Olympic team for the Beijing and London Games.