Ever since she was young, Maria has always demonstrated outstanding performances and this is proven by the number of awards and recognitions she has received throughout her career. Aside from her championships in various international events, Maria has been named the Best Female Tennis Player by ESPY for several consecutive years, and included in the 30 Legends of Women’s Tennis: Past, Present and Future by TIME Magazine. She also tops Forbes Magazine’s list of the highest paid female athletes, and has been included in the World’s Most Powerful Women by the same magazine.
It is not surprising to see just how far Maria has achieved in her career as a tennis superstar. Probably the greatest thing that makes her amazing is her attitude towards the sport, and life overall. Since she started out with playing tennis, Maria has always loved what she does. For her, if you have love and passion for what you are doing, you will always succeed. Maria says this in an interview:
“I never made excuses for me, not to myself, not to people. I always relied on my own talent, on the help of my team. At the end of the day, that's really what gets me through and gets me up. I have a tremendous amount of belief and pride in what I do. I love my work. I've always said this: I love playing tennis.”
One of the things that can get someone off the road to success is staying comfortable with where they are, but you would never find that in Maria. She constantly strives to become better every day, whether it be inside or outside the court. Maria believes that life is progressive, and that there are always newer challenges that you can overcome. This is what makes life exciting for Maria: that every single day, she looks forward to how better she can become. And no matter how many tell her how difficult a challenge may be, Maria always believes in the gifts that were placed in her. This is why she succeeds. Others may tell her how difficult a problem is, but only she can say whether or not she has the capacity to overcome it.
Maria often says in interviews:
“I have a lot more in me to achieve. I believe in my game. I think that's one of the reasons that that's why I'm sitting here is because I always believed I could be better, I could be a better player, whether it was on clay, whether it was on grass, whether it was on cement, anything, I always strive to be better. I've always wanted to achieve. No matter how tough it was, no matter how many people didn't believe in me, didn't think that I could get to this point, I didn't care and I didn't listen.”
If we looked at Maria’s vocabulary, we would probably never find the word ‘quit’ there. Her never-say-die attitude has helped her achieve so much in spite of the difficult challenges that lay ahead of her. Most often when we see a person’s victories, we fail to see the amount of trouble that they had to go through just to achieve that victory. We celebrate their successes, but do not recognize the battles that they had to fight to get to where they are today. As for Maria, with all of her achievements, the battle is just beginning. For her, it is not over, and she firmly believes that she has a lot more to give to the sport that she loves.
During an interview regarding her plans for the future, Maria said:
“I had so many outs in my career. I could have said, I don't need this. I have money; I have fame; I have victories; I have Grand Slams. But when your love for something is bigger than all those things, you continue to keep getting up in the morning when it's freezing outside, when you know that it can be the most difficult day, when nothing is working, when you feel like the belief sometimes isn't there from the outside world, and you seem so small.”
Maria is not just a tennis player—she is also a designer at heart. She knows what she wants, how she wants it done and how it should look. This is the reason why Maria has become a very successful tennis player—she plays very well, and looks very good too on and off the court. In fact, Maria has been named as the Most Fashionable Player (both On and Off Court) by the Women’s Tennis Association. She is also an endorser for international companies like Nike, Canon, Prince, and is the face of several famous fashion names like Cole Haan.
Ultimately, it all comes down to Maria’s optimistic attitude because this is what truly makes her a wonderful individual. Often, during her interviews, Maria always starts with words like, “I’m happy” or “life is good,” which some may find quite boring, but it actually shows her overall attitude about life. Some may not give credit to her optimism as one of the most important factors in her success, but this attitude is actually what made Maria the kind of person she is today. Her positive outlook in life is what helps her overcome challenges and drives her to become better every day.
When Maria was asked what made her happy in an interview, she simply said:
“A sense of humor, a comfort level. It's easy to impress me. I don't need a fancy party to be happy. Just good friends, good food, and good laughs. I'm happy. I'm satisfied. I'm content.”
Aside from being the world’s most successful tennis player, Maria is also a philanthropist. She is the founder of the Maria Sharapova Foundation, a charitable organization that covers a wide range of activities including help for children and people affected by disasters and sicknesses. Maria is a Goodwill Ambassador of the United Nations Development Programme, and supports numerous campaigns and organizations. One of her most famous charitable efforts is her involvement in the Chernobyl incident anniversary.
Early Life of the World’s Most Successful Female Athlete
Maria Yuryevna Sharapova was born in 1987 in Nyagan, Soviet Union (now known as the Russian Federation). Her parents, Yuri and Yelena Sharapova, were originally from Gomel, Belarus but left their hometown after the 1986 Chernobyl Nuclear Incident because of the radiation threat. Although life was quite difficult, the Sharapova family enjoyed a bit of well-to-do lifestyle which enabled Maria to in a way live comfortably.
When Maria was two years old, her family moved to Sochi, where her Yuri became good friends with Aleksandr Kafelnikov—Aleksandr’s son Yevgeny would later on become a Grand Slam singles champion twice and the first Russian tennis player to achieve the top rank of the international list. Aleksandr and Yuri remained very good friends for years up to today, with Aleksandr becoming Maria’s inspiration for playing tennis.
Maria’s First Encounter with Tennis and How it Changed Her Life
Maria got her first taste of tennis at the age of four when Aleksandr gave her a tennis racquet that she immediately got interested in. From that time onward, Maria began practicing tennis with her father Yuri at a local park which enabled her to develop her skills in playing the sport. In fact, many of those who witnessed the young Maria play believed that she was born to play tennis, including Yuri Yutkin, who was a veteran tennis coach. The first time Yutkin saw Maria play, he became immediately impressed due to her ‘exceptional’ hand-eye coordination.
When Maria was six years old, she went with her family to Moscow so she could attend a tennis clinic that was run by Martina Navratilova, a well-known instructor in the country. After seeing the vast potential that Maria had, Martina advised Maria to be trained professionally in the United States. Although very difficult and risky (including the fact that neither Maria nor Yuri knew how to speak English), Yuri, with the consent of Yelena, used the family’s savings (around seven hundred dollars) and borrowed a sum of money to make Maria’s dream of becoming a professional tennis player come true. And so, in 1994, Maria and Yuri went to the United States (Yelena could not come at that time as she had problems with her visa).
Maria said of her experience upon first seeing the United States:
“We were in a completely new world. It was like I was going on some adventure: Where am I? This is completely new: new people, new life, new food, and the first few years were basically about that.”
Life in the United States
Not long after arriving and settling in a small suburb in Florida, Maria was trained at the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy, the place where world-renowned tennis players such as Monica Seles, Anna Kournikova and Andre Agassi were trained. In order to support Maria’s training as well as their stay in the United States, Yuri took several low-paying jobs. However, in 1995, Maria was noticed by a representative from the International Management Group, and after seeing the amazing skills that Maria had finally enrolled her at the academy, paying for the 35,000-dollar annual tuition fee.
During her time at the academy, Maria wowed her instructors and trainers with her athletic abilities and impressive body coordination, both of which were essential in becoming a great tennis player. Constantly improving her skills and talents in playing the sport enabled her to become so good in tennis that at the age of thirteen, in 2000, Maria won the Eddie Herr International Junior Tennis Championship and received a Rising Star Award, given only to those who showed exceptional potential.
Entry into Professional Tennis: Maria Stands Out in Tennis
Maria finally started playing professionally when she was fourteen years old. The following year, in 2002, she played her very first Women’s Tennis Association tournament—although she was defeated after two games by veteran player Monica Seles, Maria did not become discouraged and continued to improve her skills at the junior events of the Australian Open and Wimbledon, where she became the youngest woman to have reached the finals of the Australian Open junior championship. Another amazing feat was the fact that she ranked number six in the International Tennis Federation’s junior world singles list, in spite of debuting just a year earlier.
In 2003, Maria started fully playing professionally, entering and making her debuts in the Australian and French Opens, although she did not win any matches in both seasons. She then entered the Wimbledon as a wildcard, where she defeated Jelena Dokic, a top-20 player (which was an incredible feat for a newcomer), but was defeated by Svetlana Kuznetsova. Maria then made a comeback by winning her first two WTA titles at the Japan Open Tennis Championships as well as the Bell Challenge. For her achievements, Maria received the WTA Newcomer of the Year award.
Winning the Wimbledon Championship: The Rise of Maria’s International Career
The year 2004 seemed to augur Maria’s tennis career well, as she not only shot up at an incredible speed in the WTA rankings (Maria ranked number 10 in the international list due to the number of wins), but this was also the year when she received her first major championship title when she won the Wimbledon after defeating defending champion Serena Williams, which was called by media as the “most stunning upset in memory.” With this win, Maria was immediately thrust in international attention, with the whole world being awed by this young woman’s skills.
This same year, Maria also won her first WTA Tour Championship, also dominating in the events she joined in, eventually defeating Serena Williams for the second time. Aside from her grand slam wins, Maria also got titles in the Hansol Korea Open and the Japan Open Tennis Championships.
Maria’s win at the Wimbledon Championships gained the attention of many internationally well-known brands such as Motorola, Canon, Tag Heuer, Land Rover and Tiffany. She was approached by numerous other companies and was asked to endorse their products not just because of her success, but also because of her astonishing beauty and photogenic appearance.
In the aftermath of the devastation of the hurricane season in Florida that year, Maria joined Angela Haynes, Nicole Vaidisova, Rennae Stubbs and Governor Jeb Bush in an exhibition that aimed to raise money for the Florida Hurricane Relief Fund. Also, Maria joined other Russian female tennis players in wearing black ribbons after the Beslan school hostage crisis while playing in the US Open Championships.
In 2005, things just got better for Maria. Though she did not win the Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon (she lost her title to Venus Williams in the finals after successfully defending it without dropping any sets), she successfully defended her DFS Classic Championship title. Having fewer points to defend compared to other tennis players, Maria grabbed the number one spot in the WTA world rankings, even though it only lasted for a week. In spite of her defeats in the finals, Maria showed extraordinary skill in playing tennis, so much so that many of those who witnessed her play believed she could stay at the number 1 spot.
Winning the US Open Championship
The following year gave Maria as string of victories, as this was the year that she got her US Open Championship title, after defeating top seeds such as Amelie Mauresmo and Justine Henin. She also grabbed titles in the Zurich Open and the Generali Ladies Linz, thrusting her into the second spot of the WTA world rankings. Though she did not win the French Open, Australian Open and the WTA Tour Championships, Maria’s exceptional style of playing tennis and her winning streaks have secured her the second spot for the entire year, which was her best year-end finish at that time.
That same year, Maria was approached by a representative of Nike and got an offer to endorse their products. She was included in an award winning campaign called “Pretty,” which was a project to promote the company’s newest sports clothing brand after the same name.
Maria suffered a shoulder injury in 2007 that in a way halted her winning streak in many of the events that she previously dominated in. Due to losing in many opening events of the Australian Open, French Open and US Open Championships, Maria fell out of the top five WTA world rankings. However, in spite of these setbacks, Maria never faltered in her love of the sport—at the year-ending Sony Ericsson Championships, Maria made a winning streak before being defeated in the finals by Justine Henin. Though she did not win, Maria’s performance in this event brought her back in the top five WTA world rankings.
In that same year, Maria was appointed as a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Development Programme. During the anniversary of the Chernobyl Incident, Maria donated 210,000 dollars to Chernobyl recovery projects that were initiated by the UNDP. Although she planned to visit the city that year, she was prevented from doing so by her injury.
Maria’s Comeback: Winning the Australian Open
Maria got her game back in 2008 by winning the Australian Open Championship, which amazed the viewers because she never dropped a set throughout the entire series. After former top ranking player Justine Henin retired from professional tennis and gave up her WTA ranking, Maria once again became the world’s number one player. However, her shoulder injury recurred, which prevented her from playing in the Beijing Olympics, the US Open, and the WTA Tour Championships. In spite of this, Maria made an impressive finish, getting the ninth spot in the world rankings. After finding out that rehabilitation was no longer going to be enough to take care of her shoulder injury, Maria underwent surgery to repair the cuff tear.
During an interview with Maria concerning the retirement of Justine Henin, she commented on how she was planning to play tennis for another ten years then retire, as she hoped to ‘have a nice husband and a few kids’ by then. Maria changed her stance two years later, by stating:
“I see myself playing this sport for many more years because it's something that gives me the most pleasure in my life. I think it helps when you know you're good at something, and you can always improve it. It obviously helps with the encouragement.”
Maria spent the early months of 2009 to recover from her injury, dropping her rankings far below the 100th line. However, as she made her comeback in the summer, her ranking rocketed upward after enjoying considerable successes in the LA Women’s Tennis Championships, the Bank of the West Classic, and the Rogers Cup. By the end of the year, Maria rose up to the fourteenth position.
2010 and 2011 brought both victories and defeats for Maria, when she lost several early games in many of the tournaments she joined in. Throughout 2010, Maria suffered several defeats in the Australian Open, the French Open and the US Open Championships, which dropped her in the rankings. One of the main challenges that Maria faced during this time was her playing form, which she struggled to achieve. In spite of this, Maria continued to improve her skills, using her defeats as lessons on how she could better herself at the sport.
By the following year, in 2011, Maria had improved her form that she was able to make straight wins in the French Open tournament. Though she did not win the final round of the event, Maria’s amazing winning streak secured her comeback in the international setting. Maria did the same at the Wimbledon Championships, where she entered the final without dropping any sets. Maria won that year’s Western & Southern Open Championship, upping her rank to number four. An ankle injury prevented Maria from finishing the season.
From Success to Success: French Open Championship and the Olympic Games
In 2012, Maria recovered early from her injury and made an amazing winning streak at the Australian Open championships. Defeating players such as Jamie Hampton, Angelique Kerber and the second highest ranking player Petra Kvitova, Maria rose up to the finals before being defeated by Victoria Azarenka. She also defeated Li Na to win the Italian Open Championship, which became the fourth time for Maria to successfully defend her title. During the French Open Championships, Maria defeated Sara Errani in the finals and regained the number one spot of the WTA world rankings. During this event, Maria was approached by the Russian Olympic committee to become the flag carrier at the Olympic Games, a great honor for her.
Maria not only carried the Russian flag at the Olympic Games that year but also participated in it, winning the silver medal and rising to number two after losing the top spot at the Wimbledon Championships to Victoria Azarenka. During the US Open series, Maria was the top contender for the number one spot at the world rankings but eventually lost it to Victoria after she was defeated by the latter in the semifinals.
From Now to Ever After: Maria’s Continuing Passion
The 2013 season saw Maria improving her game as she made numerous victories in the Australian Open and French Open championships, in spite of not winning the finals. She also retained her number two spot after winning the Indian Wells Championship. Maria also successfully defended her title in the indoor clay event in Stuttgart, defeating equally famous and talented players such as Ana Ivanovic, Angelique Kerber and Li Na.
Today, Maria goes on doing what she loves—playing tennis. Throughout her career, Maria has experienced both astounding triumphs and humiliating defeats, but the thing that keeps her together in the midst of all of this is her never-ending passion for playing. And although she is surrounded by criticisms and negative voices telling her to quit, Maria simply shrugs them off and continues to improve herself every day, believing that she can still be the best at what she does.
This is what the life story of Maria teaches us. In the midst of all the challenges that we may go through, we must always remember that as long as we are breathing, we can always become better. The moment we stop living is the moment we quit. Like Maria, who always ends up on top even though she has gone through trials and disappointments, we can learn to use our negative circumstances and turn them into assets that would bring us higher than we have ever reached before.
“I'm always on the go. I love doing things until I hit rock bottom. Then I need my 12 hours of sleep, and I'm on the go again.”
Organizations and Programmes Supported
- Maria Sharapova Foundation
- United Nations Development Programme
- Wish Upon A Hero Foundation
- Hero in Heels
- Global Fund
- Variety – The Children’s Charity
Awards and Achievements
- 2003: Received the Newcomer of the Year Award from the Women’s Tennis Association
- 2003: Won the Japan Open Championship
- 2004: Named Player of the Year by the Women’s Tennis Association
- 2004: Named Most Improved Player of the Year by the Women’s Tennis Association
- 2004: Won the Wimbledon Championship
- 2004: Won the Women’s Tennis Association Tour Championship
- 2005: Named the Best Female Tennis Player by ESPY
- 2005: Won the Prix de Citron Roland Garros
- 2006: Named the Whirlpool 6th Sense Player of the Year
- 2006: Won the US Open Championship
- 2007: Named the Best Female Tennis Player by ESPY
- 2007: Named the Best International Female Athlete by ESPY
- 2008: Named the Best Female Tennis Player by ESPY
- 2008: Won the Australian Open Championship
- 2010: Named the Fan Favorite Singles Player by the Women’s Tennis Association
- 2010: Named Humanitarian of the Year by the Women’s Tennis Association
- 2010: Named Most Fashionable Player (On Court) by the Women’s Tennis Association
- 2010: Named Most Fashionable Player (Off Court) by the Women’s Tennis Association
- 2010: Awarded Most Dramatic Expression by the Women’s Tennis Association
- 2010: Won the Cellular South Cup
- 2011: Included in the 30 Legends of Women’s Tennis: Past, Present and Future by TIME Magazine
- 2011: Won the Western & Southern Open Championship
- 2012: Named the Best Female Tennis Player by ESPY
- 2012: Conferred the Medal of the Order For Merit to the Fatherland 2nd Class
- 2012: Conferred the Medal of the Order For Merit to the Fatherland 1st Class
- 2012: Won the French Open Championship
- 2012: Included in the 100 Greatest of All Time by the Tennis Channel