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As Japan’s nuclear crisis grows, Sharapova remembers Chernobyl

Chris Chase
Busted Racquet

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A quarter-century after the nuclear disaster at  Chernobyl forced her family to leave their native Belarus, Maria Sharapova is turning her attention to the growing nuclear crisis in Japan.

The former world No. 1 was born one year after the worst nuclear accident in history but has spent much of her career raising money and awareness for victims of the accident. As the Japanese try to recover from last week's earthquake and tsunami, Sharapova is showing solidarity, speaking of her previous relief efforts on behalf of the United Nations and wearing a shirt commemorating the 25th anniversary of Chernobyl.

She spoke to reporters about both nuclear disasters after her third round victory over Aravane Rezai on Monday an Indian Wells:

On Japan:

"Crazy, right? Can you believe one disaster 25 years ago? Now another?

[...] In terms of what's going on over there, it's crazy and something that, you know, you can't even prepare for. It happens, and you see the coverage on it and the videos, and it's really incredible that something like that can even happen in the world.

It opens your eyes, and obviously puts a lot of perspective in your life. It's a country where I have very great memories from. I started playing there when I was very young, and I always loved my experiences there. So to see it going on there to its culture and the people, it's really sad."

On how Chernobyl affected her life:

"I think, you know, in the beginning my job was raising awareness to the world really and basically getting the message across that even though something like that happened such a long time ago, it still causes many people on a daily basis, especially families that were -- you know, kids that were born and now are having kids, you know, you also find that they have something in their body that's not allowing them to live a normal life from the pollution.

I mean, some of the coverage they shot when they were doing the documentary and in the radiation area, because I have never actually been around the area. ESPN covered it. I wanted to get all the coverage and all the videos around it, because it's really unbelievable what you see. This big huge area, no one is -- it's completely deserted. No one is around it.

Everyone has complete completely fled. They took their passports and that's all. That was their only belonging that they really wanted."

Sharapova donated $100,000 to victims in 2007 and is a goodwill ambassador for the U.N. Development Fund.

Last year, the former world No. 1 visited her family's hometown for the first time in a segment for ESPN's "E:60" newsmagazine.

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