Unstoppable - The Maria Sharapova Story


Maria Sharapova is the definition of a global star, transcending the sport of tennis. For 11 years in a row, she was the highest-paid female athlete in world, raking in almost USD 300 million in prize money, appearances and endorsements over her glamorous career. Winner of 35 singles titles including five Grand Slams, ranked world number 1 in singles on five separate occasions, one of only ten women who own a career Grand Slam (winning all four Grand Slams at least once), Olympic silver medalist, and the list of accomplishments could go on and on.
Part of Sharapova’s mass appeal is the remarkable story of how she rose from a kid born in a family with limited means in Siberia, Russia to one of the most recognized faces on the planet. Using a tennis racquet given to her by a family friend who just so happened to be Aleksandr Kafelnikov, father of Russia’s first world number 1 ranked male tennis player, Yevgeny Kafelnikov, Sharapova began playing tennis at the age of four. By the time she was six, her exceptional hand-eye coordination was spotted by none other than tennis legend Martina Navratilova, who recommended she receive professional training in the USA.
With nothing other than USD 700 in his pocket, zero English ability and the biggest dream, Yuri Sharapov took his daughter to America where she began training at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida. By the time she was 11, she had already signed on with Nike.
It didn’t take long for the rest of the tennis world to notice this tall blonde Russian with the striking look, as well as her fierce concentration and ferocious ground strokes. In her first full season on the women’s tour, Sharapova won two tournaments and reached the fourth round of Wimbledon, earning her the WTA Newcomer of the Year award.
A year later, the then-17-year-old went even further on the lawns of SW19, defeating former champion Lindsay Davenport in the semi-final and Serena Williams in straight sets in the final, catapulting her forever into the spotlight. Winning the year-end WTA Tour Championships by defeating Williams in the final was another step on her journey to becoming Russia’s first world number 1 female tennis player the following year. The rest, they say, is history.
However, amidst the dazzling highs of her career, Sharapova has also had to deal with the lowest of lows. Long suffering from serious shoulder injuries, she had to undergo surgery in 2008, taking her out of the game for 10 months.
After so many years on the tour, Sharapova said that after the 2015 Australian Open, she was contemplating retirement."I’d been playing professionally since I was very young, and there were certainly moments in life where you want to feel like a normal person," she said,"I have so many other passions in my life as well, and although tennis has [been] the core of my life in the past 30 years, as a woman, there’s so much to expect. I was 28; at that stage, I never really thought that I’d play past Rio [the 2016 Summer Olympics]."
Those words almost came true unexpectedly at the 2016 Australian Open, when Sharapova tested positive for meldonium, a drug she had been taking for 10 years on the advice of her doctor for several health issues. Unfortunately, the drug had been newly banned just a few weeks earlier and Sharapova and her team missed the notice. She was subsequently banned from the game for two years, later reduced to 15 months on appeal.
During her time off, Sharapova kept busy building her global brand by taking a class in global strategic management at Harvard Business School, interning at an advertising agency, traveling to places she had never been, being hands-on with her Sugarpova candy line and writing an honest, moving autobiography entitled"Unstoppable: My Life So Far".
Some people may think that Sharapova would fade quietly into life without tennis, those thoughs were quickly dispatched when she returned to the tour this April in Stuttgart, making it all the way to the semi-final in her first tournament back, displaying the gritty, never-say-die fire of old. With renewed love for competing, she didn't think of retirement and a leisurely life. In her book, she writes:"Now I only think about playing. As long as I can. As hard as I can. Until they take down the nets. Until they burn my rackets. Until they stop me. And I want to see them try."
Cruelly, in this third act of her career, Sharapova’s comeback was halted once again by injury, this time a thigh injury that forced her to sit out the entire grass court season, including the qualifying rounds at Wimbledon.
She was granted a wild card at last month’s US Open where she was drawn to play world number 2 Simona Halep in her opening round. Under the lights, Sharapova walked out on the biggest court in tennis wearing a chic black outfit studded with crystals. In a thrilling match worthy of a Grand Slam final, Sharapova dispatched Halep in three sets, showing her trademark laser focus and unbelievable will to win, despite having played only one match since May. After the emotional win, she showed she’s much more than pretty face, saying:"Behind this black dress with Swarovski crystals, this girl has a lot of grit and she’s not going anywhere."
Maria Sharapova will continue her quest to regain her winning form when she comes to the Tianjin Open for the very first time."We travel around the world and we always play the same events, we know our grounds, we know where we are going, we know what we are doing. So the exciting part is getting to a new city, a new place, a new fan base as well, I am excited about the chance to play there," enthused Sharapova. However, anyone who’s followed Sharapova throughout her career will know that she won’t be satisfied just with playing. She’ll be playing to win.