BY MAX WINTERS
Maria Sharapova was the cover girl tennis star who won Wimbledon at 17, dated the rich and famous and was embroiled in a drugs scandal… all after her family had fled Belarus to avoid the impact of Chernobyl
Ever since she shocked Serena Williams to win Wimbledon as an unknown 17-year-old, Maria Sharapova has rarely been out of the spotlight – on or off the court.
Her decision to retire from tennis on Wednesday means the end of a career for one of the game’s true bona fide stars who transcends the world of tennis.
It was immediately obvious there was more to Sharapova than just powerful groundstrokes when, after dismantling Williams all those years ago, she stunned onlookers by climbing into the crowd on Centre Court to embrace her family and called her mother to celebrate.
Sharapova was born in Siberia after her parents moved away from Belarus in fear of the repercussions from the Chernobyl disaster. Thanks to advice from tennis legend Martina Navratilova, Sharapova and her father Yuri moved to Florida when she was just six to step up her tennis coaching.
Unable to speak English, Sharapova’s mother was unable to join them for two years but that call from the Centre Court was just reward for their sacrifices.
After that famous win she became an overnight sensation and that was the catalyst for a successful career both on and off the court. Sharapova quickly became the face of global brands, including Nike, Porsche and Evian, and was a cover star for Teen Vogue magazine.
Her love life became of particular interest to fans and just a year after her stunning upset at Wimbledon, Sharapova was dating Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine following a rumoured meeting at her 18th birthday party.
It did not last long though and her next romance was with someone slightly closer to home. Talk was rife during the 2006 US Open that Sharapova and Andy Roddick were together but again things went south quickly.
She also dated Charlie Ebersol briefly before engaging in a three-year relationship with basketball player Sasha Vujacic. They were serious and even got engaged in 2010 before breaking up after two years.
Sharapova returned to the tennis dating scene with Bulgarian player Grigor Dimitrov after catching his eye during a match in 2013. Things didn’t last long again with Dimitrov, who also went out with rival Serena Williams, and they broke up two years later.
She is now dating British business man Alexander Gilkes, the co-founder of online auction platform Paddle8 and they have been together since 2018.
It is well know that her contemporaries in the women’s game have often found Sharapova cold and unfriendly. Nobody more so than Williams, with whom Sharapova has had a long-running feud ever since that Saturday at SW19 over a decade ago.
There was certainly tension between then pair but on court it was Williams who was the dominant force, with the American winning 19 straight matches against Sharapova dating back to 2004.
Writing in her autobiography, ‘Unstoppable: My Life So Far’, Sharapova said: ‘I think Serena hated me for being the skinny kid who beat her, against all odds, at Wimbledon.’
Agonising shoulder pain put paid to her best days on court while a 15-month suspension in 2016 for testing positive for cardiac drug Meldonium saw her spotlight dim massively.
In recent years, Sharapova has made the most of her position in sports to launch business interests, including the launch of her sweet and chocolate line Sugarpova.
Her portfolio also includes investment in UFC, sun cream brand Supergoop and an app that allows normal folk to message celebrities. It sounds like there will be plenty to keep her occupied as she puts her racket down for good.