Maria Sharapova is a Russian tennis
player, who won the singles championship at Wimbledon in 2004. Because she
is blond and beautiful, Sharapova is often called "Anna Kournikova with a
game," which is an important distinction for true tennis fans. Even before
winning Wimbledon at 17, Sharapova had already won three Women's Tennis
Association (WTA) and four International Tennis Federation (ITF) singles
titles. Kournikova, 23 at this writing, has never lost a singles event.
Sharapova's family lived near the oil refineries of Nyagan, but when she
was two years old the family moved to Sechi, a city on the shores of the
Black Sea, to escape fallout from the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. At 4,
the father of tennis champion Yevgeny Kafelnikov -- a beer buddy of
Sharapova's father -- gave her a tennis racket, and she started bashing
balls against walls. At age 6, she attended a tennis clinic in Moscow, and
met and played a game with Martina Navratilova, who was impressed.
Navratilova told Sharapova's father he had a prodigy on his hands, and the
family began saving for a move to America.
Accompanied by her father, Sharapova moved to Florida when she was 7 (say
some reports) or 9 (say others), to be coached by Nick Bollettieri,
formerly coach to Andre Agassi, Monica Seles, Kournikova, and others. At
the time, she spoke no English and owned only two tennis rackets. Her
mother was unable to get a visa, and remained in Russia for two more
years. At Bollettieri's tennis academy, Sharapova was usually pitted
against older players, and shared a dormitory with older girls. She has
often said she felt like an outsider, but "I learned to be a better
fighter, and I never cried."
Sharapova has endorsement deals with Nike, NEC, and Prince, and has signed
with IMG Models, the firm that employs Tyra Banks and Heidi Klum.