One of Maria Sharapova's earliest coaches, Gabe Jaramillo, recently spoke to Punto de Break about the Russian's rise and the goals she aspired to while training at Nick Bollettieri's tennis academy in Florida.
Bollettieri, a famed tennis coach, accepted Sharapova into his academy when the Russian was nine years old. Jaramillo was working as a director of the academy at the time.
During the interview, Gabe Jaramillo spoke at length about the five-time Major winner's desire to beat Serena Williams. Williams, who won her maiden Grand Slam title (US Open 1999) as a teenager herself, went on to have a long-yet-lopsided rivalry with Maria Sharapova.
Sharapova won two of their first three encounters, including the Wimbledon final in 2004. Williams, however, began to dominate the rivalry after that, eventually winning 20 of their 22 meetings.
Jaramillo revealed that a young Sharapova dreamt of claiming victory over Williams and was often fueled by that desire whenever she trained.
"It was almost an obsession," Jaramillo remarked. "We were at the academy, she hit a ball and I told her: 'Very good!'. But she answered me: 'No, well no, with that ball I don't beat Serena'. Every move she made, she thought of Serena, so you can see how these players think, with their minds set five years ahead."
The American went on to share a memory from when the former World No. 1 was 14 years old. As a junior player, Sharapova competed at the Orange Bowl tennis championships in Florida, where she lost to future rival Marion Bartoli in straight sets. Jaramillo later suggested that she practice her serve to avoid such a defeat in the future.
"I remember when she was 14 years old I saw her lose in the Orange Bowl against Bartoli, who planted the serve on the service line the entire game, without backing down," he continued. "She lost 6-0 and 6-0, that was in December. When January arrived, we met at the first training session and I told her to practice serving, so that the same thing doesn't happen to us again."
According to Jaramillo, the Russian was not bothered by her loss to Bartoli and was training with the sole goal of usurping Williams in the future. He also pointed out that Sharapova had envisioned beating Williams for several years before her dream became a reality at Wimbledon in 2004.
"She remained serious and answered: 'I'm not training to play against Bartoli, that doesn't matter to me. I'm training to play against Serena Williams'," Jaramillo recalled. "At the time Serena was already No. 1. Imagine when she won the Wimbledon final at 17 years old, she had been playing that match in her head for at least five years."
"Maria Sharapova had the greatest confidence in the world" - Gabe Jaramillo
Gabe Jaramillo proceeded to shed light on Maria Sharapova's mindset that made her a fierce competitor on court. He explained how she played with exceptional tenacity even as a child and credited her massive confidence for her illustrious career.
"She was a special player, since she was 9 years old", Jaramillo said. "She seemed like a harmless little girl until she picked up the racket. There she showed her champion mentality. She always hit the ball with a lot of confidence. Maria was always a very confident girl, she was very introverted, but she had the greatest confidence in the world, that's what helped her get where she did."
The former World No. 1 won five Majors and was one of only 10 women (the only Russian) to achieve the career Grand Slam.
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