International tennis sensation
Maria Yuryevna Sharapova is a Russian professional tennis player. Her parents are originally from Gomel, Belarus, but moved to Russia in 1986 in the aftermath of the Chernobyl nuclear accident. Sharapova was born in Nyagan, Siberia, the following year.
At the age of three, Sharapova moved with her family to the resort town of Sochi, beginning to play tennis at the age of four, using a racquet given to her by Yevgeny Kafelnikov's father. At age five or six, at a tennis clinic in Moscow, Sharapova was spotted by Martina Navratilova, who urged her parents to get her serious coaching in the United States.
At the age of seven she and her father Yuri, who could speak barely any English, boarded a plane to the USA with only $700. When they arrived at Miami airport the next morning, her father took her on the handlebars of a bicycle to the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy without any notice whatsoever. They arrived at the academy and one of the coaches checked her out. The story goes that Maria knocked his hat off with the tennis ball, thereby making a favourable impression. This led to her obtaining a scholarship. At the age of 9, she was signed up by a number of sponsors including Prince (racquets), Oakley and Nike.
In 2004, Maria Sharapova became the second youngest Wimbledon women's champion in the Open Era (after Martina Hingis) by defeating defending two-time champion Serena Williams in straight sets (6-1, 6-4). In the process she also became the first Russian ever to win that tournament.
Sharapova is regarded by many as possessing a natural beauty and figure and has done some modeling, having signed a contract in November 2003 with a leading New York model agency. She enjoys fashion and is known to read celebrity magazines. However, she says she does not want to overdo these activities, preferring to focus on her tennis.
She is often compared to Anna Kournikova, also a Russian Bollettieri student and model. However, Sharapova, Bollettieri, and Kournikova all reject the comparison.