In 2006, having just interviewed Russian tennis star Maria Sharapova, American talk show host David Letterman despairingly shrugged to his audience: "I'd never seen that woman in person, and you won't find a more stunning physical specimen than her… Oh my God."
Then, when the pair met again three years later, the Late Show With David Letterman host was back in his element: "You know, this is showbusiness," he tells the 6.2 feet (188cm) blonde beauty in his signature dry humour. "But no one makes an entrance like you do. I mean, seriously wow… Let me put it another way… Oh my God!"
It's not just Letterman, who's interviewed some of the world's most glamorous people in his 30-year career, that this 24-year-old champion has had floored. Ever since her glorious 2004 toppling of then top seeded Serena Williams at the Wimbledon final, in what is often referred to as "the most stunning upset in memory", she has captured the world's attention both on and off court.
Yet, the world's highest paid female athlete tells tabloid! in an exclusive interview that she likes to think of herself as just another girl, "just a very lucky one".
For someone who moved to the US from Russia with her father when she was seven with just $700 (Dh2,571) in the hope of developing her sporting talent, Sharapova has had more than luck with her. Her steely determination and positive outlook have seen her through, conquering not just the world of sports but everything that comes with celebrity-hood.
A self-confessed fashion lover, Sharapova, currently ranked No 2 in the world, has had design stints with American label Cole Haan and is often spotted on the front row of fashion shows. She's also fronted multi-million dollar endorsements for Canon, Nike, Reebok and Tiffany & Co. Following her long association with luxury watch brand Tag Heuer, for whom she is also the face, Sharapova recently designed a line of watches and accessories for the Swiss company.
Known for turning up on court with her own ensembles, she spoke about her line for Tag Heuer, fashion, tennis and being voted one of the most beautiful celebrities in the world.
You've always listed fashion as one of your major interests besides tennis. How early in life did you know you were into fashion?
I remember very well my very first photo shoot for Tag Heuer with Patrick Demarchelier. It was back in 2004 at the end of the year. All of a sudden, I had stylists, hair and make-up artists to take care of me for the days. It was a dream come true. Since that day, I have become a fashonista.
Why did you decide to be a part of the Tag Heuer family?
My first Grand Slam win in 2004 called for a lot of media attention and Tag Heuer contacted me to become their ambassador. I was already a huge fan of the brand and it was an amazing offer to join a team of ambassadors such as Uma Thurman and Brad Pitt at that time. They let me into the fashion world through the big door. It has been like a fairy tale since then.
How closely do you think the line you've created for Tag Heuer resembles you as a sporting champion?
It resembles me as a woman, not as a tennis champion. The design is strong, straightforward and remains quite simple. It is a watch that is "dress up-dress down".
How much of Maria Sharapova is in the line you've designed?
A lot, obviously, but I also took into consideration the comments of the Tag Heuer design team and also feedback I got from previous designs. I was looking to design a watch that could appeal to young women around the globe yet with a strong design.
Did you create the line more as a person with a keen interest in fashion and lifestyle or as a sports person?
The fashion element was a driver for me. I do not wear my watch when I play tennis… but rush to put it back on when the match is over.
You have so many other endorsements. Is there a method to how you choose them?
As for how to decide which brand to endorse or not, my agent also laughs at my fantastic ability to say "no" to projects I do not endorse 100 per cent. I really have to feel deeply implicated in the brand, to be able to put passion into it. No way can I be a mere figurehead. With Tag Heuer, we really share the same values. They are a brand that keeps on reinventing themselves, keep on innovating, keep on fighting for their position. They never take things for granted and keep challenging their craft.
Outside of the sporting world, do you think you've got used to being a celebrity?
I like to think I am like any other girl my age, probably just a very lucky one. Being a celebrity has brought me one thing though: the most loyal fans in the world. I am very thankful for that. They are so amazing, cheering me up when I am down, they are proud of what I have accomplished. So I do not pay much attention to rumours or other comments celebrity can call for.
You've often been voted one of the most beautiful celebrities in the world. How does that sit with you?
I never worried much about my physical appearance. I think once I won Wimbledon at age 17, many people started to notice my tennis and I did get some attention for my physical appearance. All I can say is that I want to be remembered as a great tennis champion, nothing else. Now of course, I am a woman and I do like bringing style to the tennis court. If I feel good about what I am wearing on the court it gives me more confidence and that allows me to even play better. But honestly, when I am on the court, I am a tennis player before anything. If people like what they see, then great.
What kind of music do you listen to?
My MP3 player is loaded with Florence and the Machine and Coldplay just to name a few.
How aware would you say you are of the world of fashion?
I do what I can to keep the pace: I read fashion magazines, attend fashion shows whenever I can. I do some research when I have a design I want to work on. I also get the help of celebrity stylist Becks Welch to keep me in the loop when I am too busy with my tennis. I only do that when I have the time, between tournaments and trainings. Tennis remains my priority.
How would you describe your personal style?
My fashion motto is "less is more". I tend to pick what I really like and not go with what is "in" in fashion.
What's your beauty regime?
I am not one of those athletes who enjoy the gym, so I try to incorporate yoga, hiking and running on the beach in my fitness regime. I do physical training every day and tennis training too. Food wise, I do not see my diet as punishing at all, it is simply healthy and balanced. But it is true I tend to steal food from my coach's plate, especially that he eats a lot of burgers. And a beauty tip: I always wear sunscreen.