Maria Sharapova was born on April 19, 1987, in Nyagan, a town in the Siberian region of Russia. In 1989, the family moved to the Black Sea resort town of Sochi.
When she was 4 years old, a chance encounter changed her life. She met with the father of tennis champion Yevgeny Kafelnikov, and the man gave her a racket. From that moment, she started hitting tennis balls, and the game soon became a passion for her.
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.
Everyone agreed moving to Florida was the best thing to do in light of Maria Sharapova'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 U.S. per year it costs to stay at the Bollettieri Academy.
While her father took odd jobs, Maria Sharapova 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 had never been in a formal school in her life.
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, Maria Sharapova did even better on the junior circuit with 26 victories and, again, only three losses. She won three more 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.
By 2003, Maria Sharapova 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. Maria 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 No. 32.
In 2004, Maria Sharapova stunned Wimbledon audiences when she beat champion player Serena Williams, making Maria Sharapova the first Russian to win a Wimbledon singles title and the third youngest women's champion in history.
Maria Sharapova spread the love in 2007, and was named a UNDP Goodwill Ambassador. She even donated $100,000 to Chernobyl recovery projects. Her good Samaritan ways must have rubbed off on her tennis skills because Maria Sharapova also came away with the winning title at the Acura Classic in San Diego. Following a loss at the US Open, she played in the Tier 1 Kremlin Cup and lost in the second round. After qualifying for the Sony Ericsson Championships, she lost to Justine Henin.
In 2008, Maria Sharapova beat Ana Ivanovic at the Australian Open, and went on to enjoy an 18-game winning streak. She lost, however, at the Tier I Family Circle Cup in Charleston as well as the French Open, and had to withdraw from the Tier I Rogers Cup due to an injury.
Her professional career, on the other hand, suffered, as she was forced to withdraw from the Australia Open due, once again, to an injury.
After undergoing surgery for her shoulder in October of 2008, Maria Sharapova returned to the tournament circuit in the spring of 2009. She made it all the way to the quarter-finals of the 2009 French Open, but lost to Dominika Cibulkova.