For Sharapova, the end justifies the means

Maria Sharapova of Russia serves to Peng Shuai of China during their women's singles fourth round match at the Australian Open 2015 tennis tournament in Melbourne January 25, 2015. Sharapova defeated Peng to win the match. REUTERS/Carlos Barria (AUSTRALIA - Tags: SPORT TENNIS)

From the shadow of Chernobyl’s nuclear wasteland to international super-stardom and from penniless arrival in the United States, without a word of English, to a fortune of $200 million (Sh20.6 billion).

It may sound like the stuff of Hollywood dreams, but the story of Maria Sharapova is a testament to the power of one individual to make it, whatever the odds, whatever the controversy, whatever people think.

Today in Stuttgart, the 30-year-old will return from a 15-month doping suspension to open the next chapter.

When she takes to the court to face Roberta Vinci, it will be to the consternation of many opponents and relief, albeit privately, of a women’s tour left flagging by the absence of Serena Williams, probably Sharapova’s only serious rival in the arena-filling business.

Sharapova shot to international fame as a giggly 17-year-old Wimbledon winner in 2004 - the third youngest player to conquer the All England Club’s famous grass courts.

She would go on to win the Australian and US opens while claiming two titles at the French Open, despite famously likening her movement on Roland Garros’s crushed red brick to a 'cow on ice'.

Siberia-born Sharapova first picked up a racquet at the age of four in Sochi, where her Belarus-born parents had settled after escaping the deadly clutches of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.

Spotted by Martina Navratilova, she was encouraged to move to Nick Bollettieri’s Florida academy, the proving ground of Andre Agassi and Monica Seles.

Father Yuri and the seven-year-old Maria left for the US in 1994 with just $700 (Sh72,275) to their names.

Yuri took odd jobs like dishwashing to finance his daughter’s dreams although visa restrictions meant mother Yelena was back in Russia, separated from her daughter for two years.

When Sharapova was nine, the mighty IMG group spotted her talent and funded the $35,000 (Sh3.6m) fees required for the Bollettieri school.

She made her professional debut at 14 in 2001 and by 2003 reached the world top 50. She won her first tour titles in Japan and Quebec.

Then in 2004, her Wimbledon final triumph over Williams made her an overnight international celebrity.

One year later, she became the first Russian woman to be ranked number one in the world while, in 2006, she won her second major at the US Open.

But in 2007 and 2008, she began her long, on-off battle with shoulder trouble.

She still had time to win the 2008 Australian Open before a second shoulder injury kept her off tour for the second half of the season, including missing the US Open and Beijing Olympics.

A 10-month absence from the sport, as she recuperated from surgery, saw her ranking slip to 126, but she was back in 2012, capturing the French Open to become the 10th woman to complete a career Grand Slam and adding Olympic silver to her resume that year.

Her 2014 French Open title was another high after a dispiriting injury low.

More injury troubles followed before the bombshell announcement of her positive test for meldonium at the 2016 Australian Open - where she fell in the quarter-finals to Williams, her last match before her suspension.

With Williams, she has endured her most testing rivalry - on and off the court.

The two famously exchanged personal insults over their love lives when Sharapova began a two-year romance with Bulgarian player Grigor Dimitrov, a rumoured previous suitor of the American. Sharapova had previously been engaged to former Los Angeles Laker star Sasha Vujacic.

She may have been unlucky in love, but Sharapova hit the jackpot in her commercial affairs. She made almost $30 million (Sh3b) in 2015.

Next Story
LATEST STORIES
Nine players given red cards by referee

The turning point in the match came at the beginning of the second half, when

Arsenal announce record shirt deal with Emirates

Arsenal announced the club's biggest-ever sponsorship deal worth a reported £200 million on Monday, extending their shirt partnership with Dubai-based

Harambee Stars coach Paul Put resigns

Harambee stars Paul Put resigns citing personal reasons

Former Man United star and teammates escape jail in ‘car theft’ case

Jonny Evans, Gareth Barry, Jake Livermore and Boaz Myhill risked community service order or a fine after “borrowing” the cab leaving driver stranded.

Conte wants 'perfect game' from Chelsea against Barcelona

Conte wants 'perfect game' from Chelsea against Barcelona

More Stories
Badminton: Public schools to receive sports equipment

Kenya Badminton Association (KBA) has begun a programme that will see public schools receive sports equipment and training.

Federer credits wife for the triumph, Cilic rues ‘unfavourable’ playing conditions for the loss

Roger Federer has credited his wife Mirka with keeping him motivated and still going strong at 36.

Roger Federer beats Marin Cilic to clinch his sixth Australian Open

Roger Federer has clinched his sixth Australian Open against Cilic in Melbourne.

Kenya’s Kotecha loses International Tennis Federation final

Kenya’s Sneha Kotecha fell to Gabonese Celestine Ella Avomo in the girls finals of the International Tennis Federation (ITF) East Africa Under-18 Juni

Njogu bundled out of ITF tourney

Njogu bundled out of ITF tourney

Cilic suppresses Edmund to reach finals

Cilic tames Edmund to reach his first final in Autralian Open but the third in grand slams

Kerber, you are next!

World number one Halep makes last four in Australian Open

Njogu, Kotecha triumph

Njogu, Kotecha triumph

Serena Williams names her next match for come back

Serena Williams, who has not played a competitive match since capturing last year's Australian Open, will return to the court next month at a Fed Cup

Nadal suffers injury setback as Cilic strolls to semis

Marin Cilic made his second Australian Open semi-final after world No.1 Rafael Nadal retired with a leg injury during a titanic struggle on Tuesday.