Maria’s father Yuri is not your average tennis parent. Legendary tennis coach Nick Bollettieri once described him as the most difficult tennis parent he had ever had to deal with.
However, Yuri’s and his wife Yelena’s dedication and commitment to help their only child Maria succeed are probably unparalleled.
Maria was conceived in Gomel, Belarus in the shadow of the 1986 nuclear disaster of Chernobyl.
Whilst still in her mother’s womb, her parents decided to move from the region to prevent their unborn child being exposed to the cancers and radiation linked illnesses associated with nuclear fallout.
The only option available to them was to move to the frozen oilfields of western Siberia. There, in the bleak industrial town of Nyagan, 19 April 1987 Maria was born.
Yuri worked in the nearby Tyumen oil fields, in the most brutal of conditions, where temperatures plummeted to minus-40 degrees Celsius and clouds of toxic smoke hung overhead.
He earned extra money, as the conditions were so harsh.
Yuri seldom does interviews, preferring instead to keep the spotlight on his daughter. Maria once said, “I’m a tough girl.” And Bollettieri commented, “She’s so tough she could bend a steel nail.”