at the Union Buildings in Pretoria
Paris – Maria Sharapova may have been blessed with Grand Slam glory and an A-list lifestyle which have made her the richest sportswoman in the world, but she's most proud of her drab, Siberian home town.
The girl who left Europe for the United States as a nine-year-old before becoming a Wimbledon champion at 17 and a future world number one, said Tuesday that every time she hears her town of Nyagan mentioned, she gets the shivers.
“I am really happy and proud of where I come from. It's fun to hear when they announce me and they don't just say born in Russia, they actually say I was born in Nyagan, Siberia,” said Sharapova.
“Every time I hear that, you can hear the crowd go 'whoa'. Like, I don't think people actually realise that's where I was born. When they say it I feel so proud.
“It's like when they say I've won a Grand Slam or been number one, when they say where I am from, I get goosebumps because I am so proud of coming from there and getting to the position I am in today.”
Her town could do with all the publicity it can get.
On Wikipedia, Sharapova is listed as the western Siberian town's only notable person while, under the culture section, Nyagan, with a 50,000 population, boasts a regional museum which opened in 2000.
What makes it wonderful for the 25-year-old star?
“Great coats. I don't know...blankets.”
On Tuesday, Sharapova, dressed all in black, took just 48 minutes to race into the French Open second round with a 6-0, 6-0 humiliation of hapless Romanian Alexandra Cadantu.
Sharapova, who needs a Roland Garros title to complete a career Grand Slam, hardly broke sweat against her 22-year-old opponent who was so penniless in 2008 that she had to stop playing.
On Tuesday's evidence, it was easy to see why.
Sharapova, twice a semi-finalist in Paris, allowed the 78th-ranked Romanian just 18 points in the match, unleashing 19 winners while her opponent hit none at all.
“Nothing is ever easy, because you have to face whoever is across the net. No matter how good or bad they're playing, you still have to win that match. That was just my goal today,” she said.
Second seeded Sharapova will face Japan's Ayumi Morita for a place in the last 32. – Sapa-AFP