'Just to see my name up there as one of the champions is amazing. I have a special feeling every time I come to Wimbledon. It's where I belong'

A year after her remarkable triumph, Maria Sharapova tells Paul Newman how she will retain her title
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The Independent Online

Maria Sharapova knows that life will never be the same again after her Wimbledon triumph last year, but for the moment at least the 18-year-old Russian can see only the benefits of fame and fortune. "I've never taken pressure too seriously," Sharapova said as she prepared to start the defence of her crown next week.

Maria Sharapova knows that life will never be the same again after her Wimbledon triumph last year, but for the moment at least the 18-year-old Russian can see only the benefits of fame and fortune. "I've never taken pressure too seriously," Sharapova said as she prepared to start the defence of her crown next week.

"I know I'm the defending champion at Wimbledon and that brings an extra burden, but pressure drives me. I enjoy it." Speaking on her first day back at the All England Club since her victory over Serena Williams in the final last year, Sharapova said: "It brings back a lot of amazing memories. Wimbledon has always been my favourite tournament - and I'm not saying that just because I won it. Ever since I came here as a junior I always said it was my favourite tournament. I've always wanted to win it. To win it so quickly and so unexpectedly, and to win my favourite tournament for my first Grand Slam victory, was just overwhelming.Just to see my name up there as one of the champions is amazing. It brings back memories of my childhood, when I knew I wanted to be the best but wasn't sure that it was going to happen.

"I have a special feeling every time I come here. It's where I belong. It's where I feel comfortable. I love the atmosphere, the courts, the surroundings, the history. I don't think about the history when I walk out on court, but you can't help being aware of the traditions. If I could win Wimbledon 10 times and not win another Grand Slam tournament I'd settle for that. It's the best tournament in the world."

Beaten by Williams in the semi-finals on Australia's hard courts and by Justine Henin-Hardenne in the quarter-finals on French clay, Sharapova is happy to be back in the environment she likes best. "I think I have a better chance against anybody on grass. It's my favourite surface and it suits my game."

Sharapova enjoys the fact that the women's game has become more competitive than ever this year. Lindsay Davenport is back at world No 1, Williams won her first Grand Slam title for 18 months in Australia, Belgium's Henin-Hardenne and Kim Clijsters are returning to fitness and form, while Sharapova and Svetlana Kuznetsova, the US Open champion, lead the east European charge. "I love competing against top players," Sharapova said. "That's what the sport is all about. That's why I play it." She said that it took a while to appreciate the enormity of her Wimbledon victory. "It doesn't really sink in until a few weeks later. On the plane back to the United States I was sitting next to my agent. He'd wake me up and say, 'Did you win Wimbledon or am I dreaming?' "

That flight back from Wimbledon was for a reunion in New York with her mother, Yelena, who shuns the limelight. She has not seen her daughter play once this year. Yuri, her father and coach, is her constant companion on tour, but Sharapova misses her mother, who stays at home in Florida helping to handle her daughter's business and fan mail.

"I talk about everything with my mum," Sharapova said. She speaks to her mother "a few times a day" and tried to phone her from Centre Court immediately after the final last year. "I'd forgotten that she was on a plane at the time. They had live television coverage of the final on the plane. She saw me on TV on the phone and realised I was calling her. She asked if she could turn her phone on to talk to me, but they wouldn't let her."

Yuri can be a hard task master and some of the other players have objected to his vocal courtside presence. Sharapova, however, remains fiercely loyal and bristles at a suggestion that she might one day have to take on a recognised full-time coach. "I'm No 2 in the world," she said. "That's not bad, is it?"

Sharapova and her father went to live in Florida when she was seven years old, which has led some other Russian players to question her suitability to represent her country in the Fed Cup. Would she like to spend more time in Russia? "Oh my God, yes. I miss it so much. I just can't find any time to go back. I last went back to Russia a year and a half ago. I miss my whole family so much, though after Wimbledon my grandma is going to the States for the first time, so I'll meet her there."

Although Sharapova's life has become hectic, the celebrity spotlight since her Wimbledon win has not been unwelcome for an outgoing and fashion-conscious teenager with classic good looks. "I've been congratulated by a lot of people who have been very successful in their own careers, like actors and actresses. It's cool to meet people who know what you're going through, who know all about success and what comes with it. We do different things but we have very similar lives. I'm invited to so many things, particularly fashion events. When I was at the German Open, Anna Wintour [the editor-in-chief of Vogue] invited me to an event in New York. I had a letter from Stella McCartney. She said if I needed anything from her collection I should let her know - which I did."

Sharapova designed the outfit she will wear next week, and is working on her own line of handbags and jewellry. She has also launched her own perfume. "I was involved in everything to do with it - the smell, the bottle, the box. It's a perfume you can wear throughout the day, not just for the evening. A lot of perfumes don't last too long; I wanted this to be a perfume that would last." When she can make a fortune simply by putting her name to a product - Sharapova will earn $20m (£11m) this year after deals with, among others, Colgate-Palmolive, Tag Heuer, Canon and Motorola - why pay such attention to detail? "I don't find it very amusing when I buy someone's product and they've had nothing to do with it. I wanted to make sure a lot of the inspiration for the perfume was mine."

Sharapova wants to remain aware of the wider world outside tennis. In Paris last month she combined some retail therapy with a trip to the Louvre. When she won a Porsche at the end-of-season WTA Tour Championships last year she asked that the money be donated to the victims of the Russian school siege.

While insisting that tennis remains her priority, she refuses to let it dominate her life. "There are a lot of other things which I'm interested in and make life interesting and fun for me. I'm an athlete but I'm also interested in fashion and I know that I also have to spend time on my education. I have a hectic life, but I love doing different things.

"I think I've matured a lot in the last year. I'm an athlete but also a businesswoman. I don't think a lot of other 18-year-old girls do what I do." Like other teenagers, however, she still has her schoolwork. During Wimbledon she will be working on her mathematics. "I have five more credits to get before I finish high school," she said.

Can she see herself still playing tennis professionally in 10 years' time? "Not when I'm 30, that's for sure. At that age I'll probably be doing something in fashion. Thirty is pretty old. I'll probably have a family by then, though it's hard to say. I don't see myself playing for a long time."

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