About Maria Sharapova - In the highly competitive sport of professional tennis, Maria Sharapova's journey to become one of the top players in the world symbolizes her determination, grit and champion's desire to win. Her story is one of sacrifice, focus and extraordinary talent. An only child, Maria was born on April 19, 1987, in the Russian industrial town of Nyagan in western Siberia. Her parents had relocated from Gomel, Russia, to escape the aftermath of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster. In 1989, the Sharapovas moved again to the Black Sea resort town of Sochi; it was here that Maria developed a love of tennis. Watching her father Yuri on the courts, four-year-old Maria learned to play using a second-hand racket. Yuri quickly recognized and nurtured his daughter's exceptional talent. In October 1993, her gift was confirmed from an unexpected source. Maria and Yuri were attending tennis clinics held in Moscow during the Kremlin Cup when Martina Navratilova happened to spot the six-year-old hitting balls on the court. Maria's form and shots stood among the mostly older children. "She has talent," the legendary champion commented to Yuri - and he took her words to heart.
Maria Sharapova wears a bikini for Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition
Struggling with how to help Maria reach her potential, Yuri and his wife Yelena decided to take a chance and seek world-class coaching for their daughter. In pursuit of this dream, Maria and Yuri boarded an airplane to the United States in March 1995, leaving Yelena behind in Russia to finish college and await a visa. The odds were against the two from the moment they touched down in Miami: neither spoke English and Yuri had just $700 in his pocket, money he had borrowed from Maria's grandparents. Several days and many bus rides later, six-year-old Maria and Yuri arrived uninvited at IMG's Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Bradenton, Florida. Although the Academy's coaches immediately recognized Maria's talent, she was too young to be enrolled as a full-time student. Yet Yuri was not discouraged. Believing in his daughter's talent, he settled in nearby Venice and coached Maria on public and private tennis courts. For two difficult years, Yuri worked odd jobs while Maria competed in local tournaments and began to accumulate victories.
In December 1995, perseverance paid off -- Maria received a scholarship to the Academy and became a full-time student. The nine-year-old lived on the prestigious campus for seven months, seeing her father only on weekends. Her separation from him, combined with constant teasing by dorm-mates nearly twice her age, forever impacted Maria but also intensified her resolve to succeed. After obtaining a U.S. visa, Yelena finally reunited with Maria and Yuri in June 1996. Maria moved out of the dorms and into an apartment with her parents while she continued to perfect her tennis skills at the academy. In November 2000, 13-year-old Maria exploded onto the world tennis stage with an impressive win in the Girls' 16-and-under Eddie Herr Championships. Her first professional tournament quickly followed in April 2001 and her first WTA tournament in 2002. In a highly competitive sport where many try but few succeed, Maria Sharapova's drive and determination will inspire young girls for years to come. From her 2004 Wimbledon championship, to being the first Russian female to ever claim the #1 ranking in the world, to being the fifth youngest female to ever hold the #1 spot, to her growing list of corporate endorsements, Maria symbolizes what hard work, world-class training and unwavering commitment can achieve: a front-row seat on the world's stage.
Maria Sharapova at Wimbledon
Maria Sharapova was born on April 19, 1987 in Nyagan, a town in western Siberia, where her parents, Yuri and Yelena, had fled from Belarus a year earlier to avoid radiation from Chernobyl. Still too close to the disaster site, her family left their home as refugees again when she was two-years-old. In 1989, the Sharapovs (Maria uses the feminine Sharapova) settled for a while in the Black Sea town of Sochi, known then as a resort village and home of Russian tennis light, Yevgeny Kafelnikov. Yuri had been an engineer in Nyagan. But as the family bounced from on home to the next, he did anything he could just to keep them together.
When she was 4 years old, a chance encounter changed her life. She discovered tennis after her fourth birthday, when a family friend, Kafelnikov’s father, gave her one of his son’s old Dunlop tennis racquets. The die was cast. Maria hardly ever let that cut-down, cracked, destrung racquet out of her hand from the moment she picked it up. Every day she hit balls against the side of the house.
Two years later, she was performing at a tennis clinic when another tennis champion changed her life. Martina Navratilova was in the building and she was flabbergasted by the talent of the 6-year-old. She went to her father, Yuri, and recommended that he take his daughter to the world-famous Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Florida.
Soon after, this same advice was repeated by the head coach of the Russian Federation. Everyone agreed it was the best thing to do in light of Maria's enormous talent. When she was only 7, Yuri took his daughter to the U.S. without knowing a word of English and with less than $1,000 in his pocket.
IMG, the sports management company, agreed to sponsor Maria and put up the $35,000 US per year it costs to stay at the Bollettieri Academy. Not knowing any English either, she was very shy and introverted.
While her father took odd jobs, Maria moved into the school dorm when she was 9. Sharing a room with three older girls, she quickly learned the language. Still, it was hard on her, especially since her mother, Yelena, remained in Russia because she couldn't get the proper visa.
Two years later, her mother was finally able to come to Florida and be reunited with her daughter and husband. From that moment, she took it upon herself to educate Maria, who has never been in a formal school in her life.
Maria Sharapova at the US Open
Her official tennis career began in 2001, when she joined the junior circuit. During that year, she won 25 matches and only lost three. In the process, she came away with three titles: Sacramento, Hilton Head and Pilsen in the Czech Republic.
The following season, Sharapova did even better on the junior circuit with 26 victories and, again, only three losses. She once more won three titles: Vancouver, Peachtree and Gunma in Japan. The same year, she was allowed to play a limited number of matches on the professional tour.
She won one match and lost two, including one against Monica Seles in the second round at Indian Wells, her first professional tournament. After all the results were tabulated, she was ranked 186th on the WTA charts.
By 2003, Sharapova had paid her dues and was able to play in the big leagues. She joined the WTA Tour and impressed everyone with her talent. For that season, she came away with 34 wins and a negligible 11 losses.
Sharapova also won two professional titles: Quebec City and the Japan Open. She also won two doubles titles with Tamarine Tanasugarn: Luxembourg and the Japan Open. When the season was over, her ranking had improved to place her at number 32.
In 2004, she stunned Wimbledon audiences when she beat champion player Serena Williams, making Sharapova the first Russian to win a Wimbledon singles title and the third-youngest women's champion in history.
At present, she is putting an end to her high school education through Keystone High, an online high school. She does photo shoots once in a while but her priority is tennis. Besides, she doesn't need the money, as she has very lucrative endorsement deals with Nike, NEC and Prince. Sharapova currently resides in Bradenton, Florida.