SOCHI, Russia (AP) — Maria Sharapova is back in the town of her early childhood, which also happens to be one of Russia's warmest spots — and the host of the Winter Games.
Siberia-born Sharapova spent six years in Sochi, where she had her first tennis lessons before leaving for the United States to continue her development in the game.
On Wednesday, she returned to a court in the midst of a leafy amusement park in central Sochi and helped re-open the upgraded tennis facilities.
Sharapova, who is in Sochi as a guest presenter with U.S. Olympic broadcaster NBC, said she had very fond memories of her childhood days here. She recalls telling American friends about the place in Russia where people can swim in the Black Sea and go up in the mountains and ski on the same day.
"No one really believed me," she said. Now anyone tuning into the broadcast of the Olympics or visiting for the Winter Games can see for themselves.
Tennis courts were a rare sight in the Soviet Union. Sharapova, who won Wimbledon as a teenager and has won four Grand Slam titles, recalls taking a bus at 5 or 6 a.m. so that she could be at the court early and get some time to herself before any tourists arrived.
"I was in a fur coat and you had all of those tourists walking by thinking that my father and I were crazy," she said.
A sponsor helped refurbish the old court, and there was a mural painted in Sharapova's honor on the hitting wall at the back of the court.