Sharapova was born in 1987 to Yuri and Yelena, ethnic Belarusians, in the town of Nyagan' in Siberia, Russia. Her parents moved from Gomel, Belarus after the Chernobyl nuclear accident in 1986 affected the region. When Sharapova was two, the family moved to Sochi where her father befriended Aleksandr Kafelnikov, whose son Yevgeny would go on to win two Grand Slam singles titles and became Russia's first ever World No. 1 tennis player. Aleksandr gave Sharapova her first tennis racket at the age of four, whereupon she began practicing regularly with her father in a local park. She took her first tennis lessons with veteran Russian coach Yuri Yutkin, who was instantly impressed when he first saw her, noting her "exceptional hand-eye co-ordination."
At the age of seven, Sharapova attended a tennis clinic in Moscow run by Martina Navrátilová, who recommended professional training at the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Florida, which had previously trained players such as Andre Agassi, Monica Seles and Anna Kournikova. With money tight, Yuri was forced to borrow the sum that would allow him and his daughter, neither of whom could speak English, to travel to America, which they finally did in 1994. Visa restrictions prevented Sharapova's mother from joining them for two years. Arriving in Florida with just $700 to his name, Sharapova's father took various low-paying jobs, including dish-washing, to fund her lessons until she was old enough to be admitted to the academy. In 1995, she was signed by IMG, who agreed to pay the annual tuition fee of $35,000 for Sharapova to stay at the academy, allowing her to finally enroll at the age of 9.
2001–03: Professional debut
Sharapova first gained attention on the tennis scene in November 2000 when she won the Eddie Herr International Junior Tennis Championships in the girls' 16 division at the age of just 13. She was then given a special award, the Rising Star Award, which is awarded only to players of exceptional promise. She made her professional debut in 2001, and played her first WTA tournament at the Pacific Life Open in 2002, winning a match before losing to Monica Seles. Due to restrictions on how many professional events she could play, Sharapova went to hone her game in junior tournaments, where she reached the finals of the Australian Open and Wimbledon in 2002. She was the youngest girl ever to reach the final of the Australian Open junior championship at 14 years and 9 months.
From 2003, Sharapova played a full season, and made a rapid climb into the top 50 by the end of the year. She made her debuts at both the Australian Open and the French Open, but failed to win a match in either. It wasn't until the grass season that she began to fulfill her promise, beating a top 20 player for the first time and reaching her first ever semifinal at the WTA level. Then, as a wildcard at Wimbledon, she defeated 11th seed Jelena Dokić to reach the fourth round, where she lost in three sets to Svetlana Kuznetsova.
By the end of September, Sharapova had already captured her first WTA title, at a smaller event, the Japan Open Tennis Championships, before winning her second in her final tournament of the season, the Bell Challenge. To cap off her first full season as a professional, she was awarded the WTA Newcomer of the Year honor.
2004: Breakthrough Season
Sharapova was defeated in the third round of the Australian Open by seventh seed Anastasia Myskina. The highlight of the remainder of her spring hardcourt season was a run to the semifinals at the Regions Morgan Keegan Championships and the Cellular South Cup, where she ultimately lost to Vera Zvonareva.
During the spring clay court season, Sharapova entered the top 20 on the WTA world rankings as a result of reaching the third round of the Qatar Telecom German Open and the Internazionali BNL d'Italia, both of which were Tier I events. At the latter event, she defeated a player ranked inside the top 10 for the first time with a straight-sets win over World No. 10 Elena Dementieva. Later that clay court season, she went on to make the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam for the first time at the French Open, losing there to Paola Suárez.
Sharapova won the third title of her career at the Wimbledon warm-up DFS Classic, defeating Tatiana Golovin in the final. Seeded 13th and aged 17 at Wimbledon, she reached her first Grand Slam semifinal by defeating Ai Sugiyama. There, she came back from a 6–2, 3–1 deficit to defeat fifth seed and former champion Lindsay Davenport. In the final, Sharapova upset top seed and defending champion Serena Williams to win her first Grand Slam singles title, and become the third youngest woman to win the Wimbledon title, behind only Lottie Dod and Martina Hingis. The victory was hailed as "the most stunning upset in memory", with other writers commenting on her arrival as a serious challenger to the Williams' dominance at Wimbledon. She entered the top ten in the rankings for the first time as a result of the win.
Following her Wimbledon win, attention and interest in Sharapova in the media greatly increased, a rise in popularity dubbed as "Maria Mania." However, on court, she was struggling to achieve results, winning just three of six matches in her preparations for the US Open. At the US Open itself, she reached the third round before being eliminated by Mary Pierce. In order to regain confidence, Sharapova played and won consecutive titles in Asia in the fall, the Hansol Korea Open Tennis Championships and the Japan Open Tennis Championships.
In October, Sharapova defeated Venus Williams en route to making the final of a Tier I event for the first time at the Zurich Open, losing in the final to Alicia Molik. She then made her debut at the year-ending WTA Tour Championships. There, she won two of her three round-robin matches (including a win over US Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova) in order to advance to the semifinals, where she defeated Myskina. In the final, she defeated Serena Williams 4–6, 6–2, 6–4, after trailing 4–0 in the final set.
2005–2006: Consistent results
Sharapova at Indian Wells in 2005.
Sharapova started the year at the Australian Open, where she defeated fifth seed Svetlana Kuznetsova to reach the second Grand Slam semifinal of her career. Sharapova held match points in the third set of her semifinal match before losing to eventual champion Serena Williams. In February, Sharapova won back-to-back tournaments, the Toray Pan Pacific Open and the Qatar Total Open, allowing her to reach the top three on the world rankings for the first time.
In the semifinals of the Tier I Pacific Life Open, Sharapova was defeated by Davenport 6–0, 6–0, the first time she had failed to win a game in a match. The following fortnight, she defeated former World No. 1 players Justine Henin and Venus Williams to reach the final at the Tier I NASDAQ-100 Open, where she lost to Kim Clijsters.
Sharapova made the semifinals of a clay-court tournament for the first time at the Internazionali BNL d'Italia, where she lost to Patty Schnyder. Sharapova would have become the World No. 1 for the first time had she won the tournament. Sharapova then reached the quarterfinals of the French Open for the second consecutive year, before losing to eventual champion Henin. On grass, Sharapova won her third title of the year when she successfully defended her title at the DFS Classic, defeating Jelena Janković in the final. As the defending champion at Wimbledon, Sharapova reached the semifinals without dropping a set and losing a service game just once, extending her winning streak on grass to 24 matches. However, she was then beaten by eventual champion Venus Williams.
A back injury sustained by World No. 1 Davenport at Wimbledon prevented her from playing tournaments during the summer hardcourt season, which meant she could not earn new ranking points to replace those that were expiring from the previous year. Sharapova, although also injured for much of this time, had far fewer points to defend, and so she became the first Russian woman to hold the World No. 1 ranking on August 22, 2005. Her reign lasted only one week, however, as Davenport reclaimed the top ranking after winning the Pilot Pen Tennis tournament.
As the top seed at the US Open, Sharapova lost in the semifinals to Kim Clijsters, meaning she had lost to the eventual champion in every Grand Slam of the season. However, she once again leapfrogged Davenport to take the World No. 1 ranking on September 12, 2005. She retained it for six weeks, but after playing few tournaments while injured, she again relinquished the ranking to Davenport. To conclude the year, Sharapova failed to defend her title at the year-ending Sony Ericsson Championships, defeating Davenport in one of her round-robin matches but ultimately losing in the semifinals to eventual champion Amélie Mauresmo.
Sharapova started 2006 by losing in the semifinals of the Australian Open in three sets to Henin, also losing a rematch several weeks later at the Dubai Tennis Championships, having defeated former World No. 1 Martina Hingis and World No. 3 Lindsay Davenport in earlier rounds of the tournament. Sharapova claimed her first title in nine months at the Tier I tournament in Indian Wells, defeating Hingis in the semifinals and Elena Dementieva in the final. The following fortnight, she reached the final in Miami before losing to Kuznetsova.
Sharapova celebrating after winning the 2006 US Open.
Missing the entire clay court season with injury, Sharapova returned for the French Open. There, after saving match points in defeating Mashona Washington in the first round, she was eliminated by Dinara Safina in the fourth round.
On grass, Sharapova was unsuccessful in her attempt to win in Birmingham for the third consecutive year, losing instead in the semifinals to Jamea Jackson. Despite that, she was among the title favorites at Wimbledon, where the eventual champion Mauresmo ended up beating her in the semifinals.
Sharapova claimed her second title of the year at the Tier I Acura Classic, defeating Clijsters for the first time in the final. As the third seed at the US Open, Sharapova defeated top seed Mauresmo for the first time in the semifinals, and then followed up by beating second seed Justine Henin in order to win her second Grand Slam singles title.
That autumn, Sharapova won titles in back-to-back weeks at the Zurich Open and the Generali Ladies Linz. By winning all three of her round-robin matches at the WTA Tour Championships, she extended her win streak to 19 matches, before it was snapped in the semifinals by eventual champion Henin. Sharapova would have finished the season as World No. 1 had she won the event. As it was, she finished ranked World No. 2, her best finish at the closing of a year yet.
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