Although she is no longer the number one tennis player in the world, Maria Sharapova is still absolutely the most famous and most watched female tennis superstar as well as the world's highest paid female athlete.
Her parents were originally from Gomel, Belarus but they moved to the infamous Siberia in Russia in 1986 after the Chernobyl nuclear catastrophe. Sharapova herself was born in Nyagan, Russia on April 19, 1987. She now resides in the United States but has retained her Russian citizenship.
After moving with her family to the Black Sea Resort at the town of Sochi at age three, she started playing tennis later at the age of four. Her first racket came from the father of tennis star Yevgeny Kafelnikov, who hails from Sochi. By the time she was six, she showed enough talent on the court to catch the eye of superstar Martina Navratilova, who then spoke to Sharapova's parents, urging them to send the young girl to the United States for professional tennis instruction.
The parents were not rich people yet they took a gamble and followed Navratilova's advice. Accompanied by her father, Sharapova went to Florida and enrolled at the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy, the same tennis school that produced former world number ones such as Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi. Due to visa problems, the father and daughter were separated from Sharapova's mother for two years.
In the beginning, Sharapova's father worked at several jobs to pay for her tennis lessons. But things would get better soon enough. The giant sports talent agency, International Management Group, soon granted Sharapova a full scholarship to ease the financial burdens on her father.
In 2004, Sharapova defeated two-time Wimbledon champion Serena Williams in straight sets (6-1, 6-4) in the finals to become the third youngest winner of the prestigious Wimbledon women's singles event, following the footsteps of Lottie Dod and Martina Hingis. She also became the first Russian to win the event. On her way to the finals, Sharapova pulled off stunning three-set victories against Ai Sugiyama (5-7, 7-5, 6-1) and Lindsay Davenport (2-6, 7-6, 6-1).