Few tennis players have come from as far away geographically as Maria Sharapova to international sports stardom.
She was born in Nyagon, in the Arctic Circle area of western Siberia in 1987, after her parents Yury and Elena Shaparov left Gomel in Belarus after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. They recall actually seeing the nuclear waste clouds up in the sky over their heads.
Almost from the time she was born her father was convinced his daughter would be a tennis star but knew she could not do that in Siberia so they travelled to Sochi on the Black Sea for lessons.
She got some of her athletic skill from her mother who was a dancer and dance teacher.
At the age of 6 she attended a clinic in Moscow put on by Martina Navratilova who recommended that her parents take her to America and train at the IMG Tennis Institute in Florida.
With difficulty her family immigrated to Florida, and she attended Rick Maaci’s Academy until she could get a scholarship to IMG, which she eventually did.
She progressed and at the height of 6 feet 2 inches made her professional debut at age 14 in the Pacific Life Open. She won her first match but then lost to Monica Seles.
She came onto the international scene in 2004 at one of the most historic Wimbledon’s. As a relative newcomer, the 17 year old rose through the tournament to get to the quarterfinals and in the semifinals in a hard fought match came from behind to defeat Lindsey Davenport 2-6, 7-6, 6-1 to reach the finals against two time reigning Wimbledon champion Serena Williams.
In one of the most stunning upsets in tennis history she dispatched Serena 6-1, 6-4. Even if she never won another Grand Slam event she would be remembered in tennis history books for that victory.
That event was also historic in that it was the last Wimbledon for 47-year-old Martina Navratilova, who became the oldest woman to win a match in the modern era.
Her next Grand Slam victory was in the 2016 U. S. Open where she defeated Justine Henin 6-4, 6-4. Serena Williams would go on to defeat Maria in the finals of 2007 and 2015 Australian Opens and the 2013 French Open.
But after losing to Serena in 2007 Maria came back the next year to win at Melbourne over Ana Ivanovic in straight sets, 7-5 and 6-3.
Her next Grand Slam final was Wimbledon in 2011 where she lost to Petra Kvitova and had a runner-up finish at the Australian Open in 2012 before winning her only French Open title the same year over Sara Errani 6-3, 6-2.
The following year she was unable to defend at Roland-Garros as she lost in the final to Serena Williams but in 2014 won her second French Open over Simona Halep 6-4, 6-7, 6-4 for her fifth Grand Slam title, tying Venus Williams among active players for second place behind Serena Williams who has 19 Grand Slam titles.
In addition to her 36 career tournament victories she is also an entrepreneur who is worth an estimated $135 million. At age 31 she is still in her prime years and hopefully has many more titles to win.
Ron Griffitts is a contributing columnist for The Daily Advocate.