Perth, Australia, 13 August 2021 | Leigh Rogers

In our ‘Serving Inspiration’ series, some of Australia’s top-ranked players reveal their biggest influences and reflect on how they hope to inspire others.
We begin with Astra Sharma, who is a proud ‘late bloomer’ …

Australia’s Astra Sharma does not shy from hard work and is being rewarded this season. The 25-year-old from Perth enjoyed a major breakthrough at Charleston in April, scoring her first win against a top 30-ranked opponent and also claimed her maiden WTA singles title.

The world No.116 is now targeting a top-100 return. Sharma, who achieved a career-high singles ranking of No.85 in June 2019, understands the patience and dedication required to chase dreams. She also hopes her own journey provides inspiration to others to never give up.

Who were your biggest inspirations growing up?

There were a few. One that particularly stands out is Justine Henin. I always loved how tough she was as a competitor. I remember watching her at the French Open a lot and she never let her size get in her way. I know I’m not that small, but what I take from that is, if you can put your mind to something and you’re extremely competitive and focused on court, then you can bring the best out of yourself.

Do you have a favourite inspirational quote?

I don’t really have a favourite. I read a lot, so there are always things that pop up that resonate with me. But there’s none that I live my life by.

Do you remember the first professional match you watched live?

It would have been at the Hopman Cup in Perth when I was about 10. I remember watching Lleyton Hewitt play. I can’t remember who he played, but just seeing him was pretty cool. When I was little I’d go to the Hopman Cup every year. I always tried to get tickets to multiple sessions. Seeing the world’s best in a fun, team tennis environment was a good experience. I loved the competition.

Do you remember the first autograph you got from a professional player?

I don’t remember my first, but my favourite autograph was from the Australian Open in 2007. I jumped on top of a rubbish bin to get Rafael Nadal’s autograph, so that one always stays with me. I had my little cheap notebook and he was walking off the court already, so I just threw myself over the bin to get his autograph. I still have that book.

How do you hope to inspire others?

I hope people can look at my story and see that anything is really possible. I was never the atypical tennis player growing up, I didn’t hit a lot of the criteria that you see a lot of professional players hit. But I worked really hard and stuck to what I thought I could do. I was a late bloomer it panned out. If someone gets told that they’re not good enough or they’ll never make it, I hope I can inspire them that maybe they can.

A lot of people told you that you would never make it?

I had a lot of people and coaches doubt me. I was enrolled in school full time and I didn’t invest that much time into tennis at first, so I got ‘you’re never going to make it like this’. Even when I started playing, the word I heard a lot was ‘potential’. It was always ‘Astra has got a lot of potential’, which was a back-handed compliment in a way because it meant I wasn’t good enough yet and it wasn’t translating into any sort of success. I hated that compliment, so it always fired me up to get better and fulfill the potential that everyone kept saying I had.

Are you proud of what you have achieved now?

I’m extremely proud. If I stopped my career right now, I think I’ve achieved a lot to be proud of. Obviously there’s so much more that I would like to do, but I’m super proud of all the work I have put in. If you’d told me 10 years ago, when I was 15, that I would have cracked the top 100 and been a Grand Slam mixed doubles finalist (at Australian Open 2019 with fellow Aussie John-Patrick Smith) – I would have been like ‘oh, there is no way that will happen. My goals were not that lofty’. So to actually realise I have done that and I feel like I can do more, that’s a pretty cool place to be.

What advice would you share to young players who want to become a professional tennis player?

My advice is it has to come from you. The amount of work needed, that is not something that someone else can make you do. I think that’s what has helped me, I’ve always had this little fire inside of myself that pushed me to get out on court when no one else was, or do that extra fitness training. There is no magical formula, you just have to want to do it. Even if you don’t enjoy traditional success, you’ll still feel really good about yourself if you’ve pushed yourself as hard as you can.

Read more in our Serving Inspiration series:
> Ben Weekes