Former Wimbledon champion and Russian tennis icon Maria Sharapova is in London, attempting to repeat her 2004 victory on the tournament’s famed emerald lawns. When she's not hitting forehands and backhands, the native of Nyagan, in the Khanty-Mansi region of Siberia, is a UN Development Programme Goodwill Ambassador. After the Wimbledon tennis tournament concludes next weekend, Sharapova will head to the Gomel region in the southeast of Belarus – the area from which her family fled due to Chornobyl-related radiation concerns a year before her 1987 birth.
Sharapova’s charity, in partnership with the UN, provides scholarships and supports youth projects in areas of Belarus, Ukraine, and Russia that were affected by the nuclear accident. In her upcoming visit, the former number-one-ranked tennis player is scheduled to visit a local arts center, tour a mental health facility, and meet students who have won scholarships from her foundation. “Giving young people the tools they need to reach for their dreams is a good way to overcome the Chornobyl legacy,” she said in a statement.
Meanwhile, anticipation is building for a potential fourth-round clash between Sharapova and defending champion Serena Williams, whom she defeated in the 2004 final.
-- Richard Solash