Considering how long Maria Sharapova has been in the spotlight, it’s hard to believe she’s still only 24. It feels like she has been part of our lives for a long time.
After a few seasons of inconsistent play mostly due to injury, the Russian tennis star has found her way back into the finals at Wimbledon and is once again the favourite to win the whole thing.
Before she was holding trophies and featured in fashion magazines, Maria lived in post-Chernobyl Belarus
Maria Sharapova was born in Serbia, on April 26, 1987, almost exactly one year after the Chernobyl nuclear meltdown occurred and forever changed the landscape of Eastern Europe. Soon after Maria was born the Sharapova family moved the town of Gomel, Belarus until fallout from the disaster affected the town forcing them to move to Sochi.
It was in Sochi that Maria's father became close with the father of Yevgeny Kaflnikov, the first Russian tennis player to be named number one in the world.
Maria received her first racket from Yevegeny's father in 1991 and she immediately showed that she may have a future with the sport.
When she was seven years old, Maria participated in a tennis camp run by Martina Navratilova. At Navratilova's recommendation, Sharapova and her family made the decision to try and study under tennis trainer extraordinaire Nick Bollettieri in Florida.
In 1994, unable to speak a word of English and with little money, the Sharapova's moved to the Sunshine State without Maria's mother who was delayed for two years due to Visa issues. Maria's father worked various low-wage jobs to pay for her lessons until she was old enough to be admitted to the Bollettieri's academy.
In 1995, a nine-year-old Maria got a huge break when IMG signed her to a deal that would pay off the costs for tuition at the academy.
The Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy is the world's most successful training ground for aspiring tennis players. In partnership with IMG, the academy is home to 30-five hard courts, sixteen clay courts, and four indoor courts. Andre Agassi, Pete Sampras, Bjorn Borg, Martina Hingis, the Williams sisters, Tommy Haas, Boris Becker, and Monica Seles are amongst the school's alumni.
In 2000, Sharapova started turning the heads of the tennis powers-that-be with her victory at the Eddie Herr International Junior Tennis Championships in the girls 16-year-old division. She won the tournament when she was only 13.
She turned professional in 2001 and played her first WTA tournament in 2002 at the Pacific Life Open. She went on to compete in the junior finals of both the Australian Open (pictured) and Wimbledon in that very same year.
At her age, Sharapova was only allowed to compete in so many WTA tournaments. She took advantage of her 'down time' to participate in junior tournaments where she only got better.
2004 was a banner year for Sharapova. She entered the top 20 WTA rankings after winning three smaller tournaments, and reaching advanced rounds of some larger ones such as the Morgan Keegan Championship and the Australian Open.
Sharapova became a household name after her unexpected run at the 2004 Wimbledon championships. She defeated Ai Sugiyama and former champion Lindsay Davenport before facing off against the heavily favoured Serena Williams. The then 17-year-old Maria Sharapova defeated the reigning champion Williams in straight sets. 'Maria Mania' had begun.
Sharapova's talent and good looks placed her amongst the world's most famous and marketable athletes right after her win at Wimbledon. She was featured in Sports Illustrated, People, and Maxim almost right away after her first major title. Later on, she would get mega endorsement deals from Canon, Gatorade, Tropicana, and Nike.
The 2005 campaign began with semifinals appearance at the Australian Open and then back-to-back victories at the Toray Pan Pacific Open and the Qatar Total Open. After making a semifinals appearance at Wimbledon, Sharapova found herself near the top of the world rankings.
After former number one Lindsay Davenport injured her back, Sharapova took over the world's top ranking officially on August 22, 2005. This first ascension to the top was short lived since Davenport came back to win the Pilot Pen Open not too long after, but Sharapova would take over the number one spot again after her semifinals appearance at the US Open. She held onto it for another six weeks.
Maria was officially no longer a one-hit wonder after her victory at the 2006 US Open. She entered the tournament as a third seed, and had to defeat the top seeded Amélie Mauresmo and the second seeded Justine Henin.
Somewhat infamously, when Sharapova hoisted the US Open trophy over her head for the first time, the lid on the trophy fell off and nearly hit her in the head. It was really cute.
Sharapova started the 2007 season as the number one seed in the Australian Open, and she would gain her over all number one status back by reaching that tournament's final. She held on to the top spot until she lost in the fourth round at the Pacific Life Open after dealing with a hamstring injury.
Not long after, a shoulder injury that kept her out of action for a lot of the French Open season the year prior flared up again forcing her to miss another round of matches on clay. She did return in time for the actual Open and made it to the semis.
The injury severely limited her production for the rest of the year. She was eliminated from Wimbledon in the fourth round, and the US Open in the third. After taking a few months off, Sharapova entered the October Kremlin Cup tournament where she lost in the first round. Sharapova then fell out of the top five.
After a resurgence in 2008 when she won the Australian Open, she soon found herself on the shelf again with a torn rotator cuff. She had surgery and missed several year-end tournaments.
Sharapova's world ranking plummeted to 126 when she while she was recuperating from surgery. She returned to action just before the 2009 French Open where she reached the quarterfinals. After losing early in both Wimbledon and the US Open, Sharapova won a tournament at the end of the year to put her world ranking to a more respectable 14th place.
2010 ended up being a long and inconsistent trial, and it was another year without a major championship. By the time 2011 rolled around, Sharapova found a new coach and her old game. After hiccuping in the Australian Open, she got to the finals of the BNP Paribas tournament, and the semifinals of the Sony Ericcson Open. She re-entered the world top 10, and celebrated that accomplishment by going 12-2 during the clay season.
Sharapova's performance at this year's Wimbledon has people believing that she is back for good. She has yet to lose a set and appears poised to defeat Petra Kvitova in the finals.
Ever since she was a kid, Maria started collecting stamps. She describes her collection as 'huge.' Her other hobbies include fashion, hip-hop dancing, reading the Sherlock Holmes and Pippi Longstocking series, and spending time with her pomeranian 'Dolce.'
Recently, Sharapova and NBA player Sasha Vujačić have become engaged after two years of dating.
Sharapova has given large amounts of money to charitable organisations in the past. Her biggest donation to date would be the $210,000 she gave Chernobyl recovery projects.
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