On July 3, 2004, 17-year-old Maria Sharapova became an international sensation overnight when she beat legendary tennis player Serena Williams at Wimbledon. Maria was the first Russian woman to win the Grand Slam.
Sports commentators referred to her triumph as a fairytale win, and they weren’t wrong. Maria was born in a small village in Siberia. Her parents were Belarus natives who left the region because of concerns with the after effects of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster. Maria began playing tennis when she was four years old, and coaches were impressed with her extraordinary hand-eye coordination. Although money was tight, her parents were able to borrow funds to travel to the US with her so she could continue her training. Her father would work a string of low-paying jobs to pay for her to train at the prestigious Nick Bollettiere Tennis Academy.
Within a year of her first Wimbledon title, Maria would be considered the number 1 women’s tennis player in the world. However, just when she was on top, a shoulder injury took her out of the game for nearly a year. The recurring injury cost her months at a time off the court, taking her out of the top 10. She would not return to her previous level until 2011. However, 2012 saw her win an Olympic silver medal and became the 10 woman to complete a Career Grand Slam.
Maria is now ranked the number 3 tennis player worldwide and the top player from Russia. While she once said that she intended to retire young, she’s since changed her stance. In a 2012 interview, she said, “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.”