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Sharapova's parents liked to play tennis, and they gave her a racket as a toddler and began teaching her how to hit the ball. Because they could not afford a genuine child-size racket, they cut off the handle of an adult one for her to master instead. She proved a quick learner, and when she was six years old they traveled to Moscow for a youth tennis clinic. One of the celebrity athletes at the event was Czech-born Martina Navratilova (1956–), a nine-time women's singles winner at Wimbledon. Navratilova was impressed by Sharapova's skills and suggested to the parents that they contact the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Bradenton, Florida. This was a tennis-focused boarding school that had trained several future champions, including Andre Agassi (1970–), Pete Sampras (1971–), and Monica Seles (1973–).
"Tennis obviously is going to make my money at this point, and that's what I've been practicing for. But it's not my life."The Sharapovas decided to go to Florida and try to get Maria enrolled there. But only Yuri could get a visa (a document permitting a foreign citizen to legally enter the country) to travel to the United States, and so Yelena stayed behind in Sochi and waited for her visa application to be approved. They also needed money for the trip and had to borrow several hundred dollars from Yuri and Yelena's parents. This was an enormous sum for her parents, partly because Russia was in a state of financial chaos at the time, and average working families like hers struggled to obtain the basic necessities of life in the new, non-Communist era in which the state did not generously provide jobs, housing, and healthcare for all citizens. "My parents weren't stupid," Sharapova told Peter Kafka in Forbes. "The conditions in Russia weren't the best for tennis."
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