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A fan, a fiancé, a fellow athlete

Watching Maria Sharapova's power and precision, the Centre Court crowd at Wimbledon fell into an awed silence, one that was broken before or after points by the clapping of one person. Without a word, Sasha Vujacic was communicating what his fiancée, Sharapova, needed to hear during her 6-1, 6-1 quarterfinal win over Dominika Cibulkova.

sports Updated: Jun 30, 2011 01:15 IST

Watching Maria Sharapova's power and precision, the Centre Court crowd at Wimbledon fell into an awed silence, one that was broken before or after points by the clapping of one person. Without a word, Sasha Vujacic was communicating what his fiancée, Sharapova, needed to hear during her 6-1, 6-1 quarterfinal win over Dominika Cibulkova.

Sharapova and Vujacic have a telepathy usually seen in old, married couples, never mind that they have yet to set a wedding date. If anyone can understand the loneliness and loveliness of the sporting life, it is Vujacic. As a member of the Los Angeles Lakers, he performed in pressure-filled games and won two NBA championships.

"There is that level of understanding of what it takes," Sharapova said.

Since Vujacic, now with the Nets, joined her traveling party, Sharapova has advanced to her first two Grand Slam semifinals since her title run at the 2008 Australian Open.

"It obviously helps that he's an athlete and understands the mind-set going into matches," said Sharapova. "It's quite different to many other things in life and careers."

Consider the afternoon nap. It is as ingrained a routine among professional athletes as the power lunch is in the business world. Sharapova sounded relieved she had found a partner who did not view her sleeping habits as slothful.

"I think anyone else would be, 'You're going to take a nap in the afternoon?' " she said. "It's really nice in the beginning. It's like, 'Oh, that's the way things work.' I don't even need to explain it."

Vujacic agreed. "Being an elite athlete is something that's hard to explain if you haven't done it," he said.

Being a spectator, he added, is the worst. During Sharapova's matches, Vujacic sits ramrod straight and taps his hands on his knees.

When Sharapova watches Vujacic play, she said, she gets "a lot more nervous than I have been in my life." She added: "It's a lot tougher to be on the sidelines." Sharapova's softer, self-deprecating side emerges when she talks about Vujacic, whom she met at a friend's barbecue in the fall of 2009.

"We're both competitors, and we had very similar upbringings in terms of sport," she said.

How are they different? "I think he likes to practice more than I do," she said. "He just loves his sport so much. I mean, he slept with his first pair of basketball shoes. I certainly never slept with mine." With a sparkle in her eyes, Sharapova said, "I slept with a pair of high heels."