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Maria Sharapova

Maria Sharapova was born on 19th April 1987 in Nyagan, Russia. She first began playing tennis at the tender age of four and quickly began showing early promise, so much so that when Maria was nine she and her father moved to Florida in order for her to attend the prodigious Nick Bollettieri tennis academy. Whilst at the time this must have been a stressful change for the young Sharapova, having to move away from her native Russia at such a young age, it had a positive result as the skills she learned at the Bollettieri academy meant she was able to turn professional in 2001 aged only 14.

Since then Sharapova has never looked back. Just two years later she won her first victory on the WTA (Women's Tennis Association) tour at the Japan Open. As her name started to become well-known on the tour because of her ability, so it did off the court also as Maria began doing modelling shoots and product endorsements. In 2005, Forbes magazine declared Sharapova the highest paid female athlete in the world, earning a staggering $18 million in prize money, sponsorship and product endorsements such as Canon Cameras.

It is no surprise that Maria Sharapova has been compared innumerable times to her compatriot Anna Kournikova, as the two share many similarities. Not only do they look similar with their flowing blonde hair and popularity with men everywhere, both girls left Russia at a young age to train at the Bollettieri tennis academy in Florida and were able to turn professional tennis players at a young age. However, there has been a distinct difference in their success off the court. During her tennis career, Kournikova was often criticised for failing to turn her early promise into one of female tennis's greats. Many people began to think that she spent too much time modelling and not enough practicing her tennis. However fair or unfair this criticism was, Kournikova never managed to win a major title in her professional career. A lot of people wondered if Sharapova would follow a similar pattern, which is why many were stunned when in 2004 she stunned the tennis world by beating the defending champion Serena Williams in the Wimbledon championships to win the title at the age of 17, just three years since turning professional. The same people who had doubted her ability before again said that her Wimbledon victory was just a flash in the pan, or that she could only play well on grass, but over the following months Sharapova silenced her critics by continuing to play some exceptional tennis, eventually culminating in her being crowned World No.1 in the women's tennis rankings in August 2005.

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