Tennis star and Manhattan Beach resident Maria Sharapova was awarded Mayor Wayne Powell's "I Heart MB Award" during the ceremonial portion of the City Council meeting Tuesday night.
The 2012 Olympic athlete who took home a silver medal for Russia in her first Olympic appearance, graciously lit up the room, bantering lightheartedly with Powell during the presentation.
When given the key to the city, she said, "Let me ask a question: Does it pay for the meters here?" to which laughter erupted in council chambers. "Or does it open the meters so I can pay and put the money back in it? We'll work on that," she added, drawing more applause and laughter.
The lighthearted and fun exchange continued: "You wear your silver medal and have this key in your possession at all times, you can convince any meter maid not to issue you a citation."
"No, you can't," immediately proclaimed Sharapova, laughing. "I've tried all the tricks. It doesn't work."
After Powell agreed, saying he'd received a street sweeping ticket, Sharapova said," I've paid a few. Don't worry. I contribute to the city very well."
Sharapova, who announced in late August that her engagement to former Los Angeles Laker and New Jersey Net Sasha Vujacic [now playing professional basketball in Turkey], was asked to talk about her charitable efforts, which includes work as a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Development Programme and the Maria Sharapova Foundation Scholarship for Youth from the Chernobyl-Affected Areas of Belarus, which partners with UNDP to award $210,000 in scholarship money to students from Chernobyl-affected areas of Belarus. In 2007, she donated $100,000 to Chernobyl-related projects, according to her website.
She told the audience that she holds a special place in her heart for people affected by the 1987 Chernobyl nuclear disaster, explaining that her mom fled Belarus while pregnant with her to escape the disaster.
"If I would've stayed in one of those regions, who knows what would've happened," said Sharapova, who added that because the disaster happened so many years ago people tend to think it's over. "... many people are continuously affected by it and it's been a goal of mine to commit my time and efforts and part of my money to help those communities recover," she said.
Though retirement isn't on the horizon just yet, the affable tennis pro said she'd do even more work to help the impacted areas of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus once she was. "I don't know when, but someday," she said.
An August Turkish media report that said she and Vujacic will marry in that country on Nov. 10 was apparently incorrect, since Sharapova told the media the two had called it off.
As for Manhattan Beach, she said, "I'm so privileged to be a part of this community. It's so warm. And we have the L.A. side of things which is so busy and crazy but after traveling so many years and being on the road this is a great place to call home."
When jetlagged, she said it's great to come home and visit Peet's at 5 a.m.
Powell listed some of Sharapova's on-court and off-court accolades, including being named an ESPN Hottest Female Athlete of the Year and winning four grand slams: Wimbledon, the U.S. Open, The Australian Open and the French Open. He said she's been ranked by the World Tennis Association anywhere from No. 1 to No. 3 [she's No. 2 as of publication time] recently in addition to taking home the silver medal in the 2012 Olympics, losing to American Serena Williams whom she beat for the Australian Open title, according to Powell.
Said Sharapova when asked if she prefers a grass or hard-surface court, "Every grand slam is so different and so unique. I've been playing the sport since I was 4-years-old and when you're growing up and you're trying to achieve those things--I started as a junior on court 19 in the back with not many spectators--once you get there, that's where it all starts for you and when you get to the moment of playing in these grand slams, it's such an incredible honor to be a part of it.
"But to also achieve the drams that you had as a young kid is always extremely special and I've always been so fortunate in my career."
Correction (Sept. 19, 2012, 8:05 a.m.): Maria Sharapova is no longer engaged to Sasha Vujacic, as previously reported in this article. We apologize for the error.