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Maria Sharapova was born on April 19, 1987 in Nyagan, a town in western Siberia, where her parents, Yuri and Yelena, had fled from Belarus a year earlier to avoid radiation from Chernobyl. Still too close to the disaster site, her family left their home as refugees again when she was two-years-old. In 1989, the Sharapovs (Maria uses the feminine Sharapova) settled for a while in the Black Sea town of Sochi, known then as a resort village and home of Russian tennis light, Yevgeny Kafelnikov. Yuri had been an engineer in Nyagan. But as the family bounced from on home to the next, he did anything he could just to keep them together.

When she was 4 years old, a chance encounter changed her life. She discovered tennis after her fourth birthday, when a family friend, Kafelnikov’s father, gave her one of his son’s old Dunlop tennis racquets. The die was cast. Maria hardly ever let that cut-down, cracked, destrung racquet out of her hand from the moment she picked it up. Every day she hit balls against the side of the house.

Two years later, she was performing at a tennis clinic when another tennis champion changed her life. Martina Navratilova was in the building and she was flabbergasted by the talent of the 6-year-old. She went to her father, Yuri, and recommended that he take his daughter to the world-famous Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Florida.

Sharapova moves to america

Soon after, this same advice was repeated by the head coach of the Russian Federation. Everyone agreed it was the best thing to do in light of Maria's enormous talent. When she was only 7, Yuri took his daughter to the U.S. without knowing a word of English and with less than $1,000 in his pocket.

IMG, the sports management company, agreed to sponsor Maria and put up the $35,000 US per year it costs to stay at the Bollettieri Academy. Not knowing any English either, she was very shy and introverted.

While her father took odd jobs, Maria moved into the school dorm when she was 9. Sharing a room with three older girls, she quickly learned the language. Still, it was hard on her, especially since her mother, Yelena, remained in Russia because she couldn't get the proper visa.

Two years later, her mother was finally able to come to Florida and be reunited with her daughter and husband. From that moment, she took it upon herself to educate Maria, who has never been in a formal school in her life.

maria's smash hit

Her official tennis career began in 2001, when she joined the junior circuit. During that year, she won 25 matches and only lost three. In the process, she came away with three titles: Sacramento, Hilton Head and Pilsen in the Czech Republic.

The following season, Sharapova did even better on the junior circuit with 26 victories and, again, only three losses. She once more won three titles: Vancouver, Peachtree and Gunma in Japan. The same year, she was allowed to play a limited number of matches on the professional tour.

She won one match and lost two, including one against Monica Seles in the second round at Indian Wells, her first professional tournament. After all the results were tabulated, she was ranked 186th on the WTA charts.

sharapova's year

By 2003, Sharapova had paid her dues and was able to play in the big leagues. She joined the WTA Tour and impressed everyone with her talent. For that season, she came away with 34 wins and a negligible 11 losses.

Sharapova also won two professional titles: Quebec City and the Japan Open. She also won two doubles titles with Tamarine Tanasugarn: Luxembourg and the Japan Open. When the season was over, her ranking had improved to place her at number 32.

In 2004, she stunned Wimbledon audiences when she beat champion player Serena Williams, making Sharapova the first Russian to win a Wimbledon singles title and the third-youngest women's champion in history.

sharapova hits the books

At present, she is putting an end to her high school education through Keystone High, an online high school. She does photo shoots once in a while but her priority is tennis. Besides, she doesn't need the money, as she has very lucrative endorsement deals with Nike, NEC and Prince. Sharapova currently resides in Bradenton, Florida.

  • Favorite Movie: Pearl Harbor
  • Favorite Food: Russian
  • Favorite Book: Sherlock Holmes and Pippi Longstocking series
  • Loves fashion, singing, jazz dancing and watching movies.
  • "I am Maria Sharapova and not anyone else."
  • "I've always just wanted to be me and people can say whatever they want to say."
  • "I think I pretty much shut everyone up after I won at Tokyo."
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