Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Maria Sharapova, Tennis Legend

Maria Sharapova Hits an Ace in Leather


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Maria Sharapova.

Maria Yuryevna Sharapova (born April 19, 1987) is a Russian professional tennis player who also models. She as of this writing is the top Russian player and one of the top-ranked women in the world.

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Not only is Maria highly ranked in tennis circles, but her natural beauty ranks her near the top among leather lovers, too.

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Maria was born in Nyagan, a young town in Western Siberia. Her parents moved there from the general vicinity of Chernobyl shortly after the nuclear explosion there. So, one could say that Maria is a Chernobyl survivor, though there is no indication that she was in any immediate danger.

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Sharapova began playing tennis at a young age, as is common in Russia, studying at a prestigious tennis clinic run by Martina Navratilova. Navratilova spotted Maria's talent and recommended that she head to the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida. This placed a great strain on the family's finances, but Maria and her father headed to the United States.

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Sharapova was too young to enter the academy when she arrived, so she and her father had to wait for a year. Finally, when she was 9, Maria impressed the people at IMG, who gave her a scholarship. This took a huge strain off of Maria's father. In essence, the Sharapovas took a huge gamble that paid off - but such gambles don't always succeed.

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Maria trained steadily for five years. Finally, in 2000 at the age of 13, she won the Eddie Herr International Junior Tennis Championships in the girls' 16 division. Needless to say, winning a tournament at the age of 13 when you are competing against 16-year-olds is a phenomenal achievement.

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Maria turned profession in 2001 on her 14th birthday. That meant that she was competing against players like Monica Seles, who at that time was riding high. In her first WTA tournament, the Pacific Life Open in 2002, she played Seles - and lost. It was a start.

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Maria kept working at her game, competing in junior tournaments as well as professional events. In 2002, she reached the finals of the girls' singles events at the Australian Open and Wimbledon, becoming the youngest to go that far in the Australian at 14 years and 9 months of age.


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After completing her junior tournament career with a 47-9 record, Sharapova moved up to full-time professional play in 2003. She won the Japan Open Tennis Championships in September. The stage set for Maria to prove that she could not just compete - but dominate at the professional level.

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At Wimbledon in 2004, Maria had her big professional breakthrough. She reached the final and competed against Serena Williams, the heavy favorite. Maria scored a dramatic upset win, becoming the third-youngest woman to win Wimbledon (Martina Hingis, another Sharapova contemporary, and Lottie Dod were younger). She also became the second-youngest Russian woman to win any Grand Slam title.

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Now a Top 10 player, Maria reached the third round at the US Open, then went to Asia and won three consecutive titles. She also reached the final at the Zurich Open, then reached the finals of the year-end WTA Tour Championships. Capping a phenomenal year, she defeated Serena Williams again with a stirring comeback win.

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As 2005 dawned, Maria Sharapova was recognized as a major new force on the women's tennis scene. She reached the semifinal of the Australian Open before losing to nemesis Serena Williams. She followed that up by winning two lesser tournaments, becoming World No. 3 in the rankings.

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Sharapova reached the semifinals at Wimbledon in 2005 before losing to eventual champion Venus Williams. Despite the loss, she reached No. 1 in the world tennis rankings on August 22, 2005. This made her the first Russian woman ever to hold the number one spot, though she held it for only a week.

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Obviously, the fight was on to achieve dominance, and Sharapova was up to the task. She reached the semifinals of the US Open, and reclaimed the World No. 1 ranking on September 12th. This time she stayed there for six weeks. At this point, Sharapova was worn down, with nagging injuries hampering her play - which is not at all uncommon for top players, and they all have to deal with it.

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Sharapova began 2006 as a dominant player on the women's tour, though she was not ranked at the top. It was a very successful year, with Sharapova winning at Indian Wells, reaching the fourth round at the French Open, the semifinals at Wimbledon, and winning at the Acura Classic. The US Open was her major highlight, though, with Sharapova beating Justine Henin to win her second Grand Slam title.

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Maria began 2007 as the World No. 2, and reached the final at the Australian Open after a rocky start. Her nemesis, Serena Williams, defeated her there as Williams began a major comeback. Despite the loss, Sharapova retook the World No. 1 ranking. This time, she held it for seven weeks. However, injuries began taking their toll, as the tour grind is relentless.


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Despite not being a clay-court specialist, Sharapova reached the semifinals at the French Open for the first time. Wimbledon was a bit of a downer, as she lost to eventual champion Venus Williams in the fourth round. However, she rebounded to defend her title at the Acura Classic. An early loss at the US Open, in the third round, pretty much ended her 2007 season. She came back in year-end Sony Ericsson Championships to reach the final, losing to Justine Henin (World No. 1) in an epic match that lasted well over three hours. This late win enabled Maria to re-enter the world top five.

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At this point, Maria was a known quantity. She accomplished a major goal to begin 2008 by winning the Australian Open after being seeded fifth. She avenged her loss at the US Open by defeating Justine Henin in the quarterfinals, then Ana Ivanovic in the finals. It was her third Grand Slam win, and she now had an 18-match winning streak.

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Maria reclaimed the World No. 1 in May, when Henin unexpectedly retired. One must give Henin credit: it's tough to go out on top. However, injuries now took a larger toll on Sharapova's play, and after the French Open she lost the top ranking when she lost in the fourth round. The rest of the year was rough, and in August, Maria was diagnosed with a rotator cuff tear. This knocked her out for almost a year, until the Warsaw Open in May 2009.

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Maria came back to competitive tennis strong in 2009, reaching the quarterfinals at the Warsaw Open and the French Open. However, overall it was a rough year, as Maria was bounced in the second round of Wimbledon and the third round of the US Open. Finally, in Tokyo, Sharapova won her first title of the year. Maria ended the year at world No. 14, not bad considering her extremely late start after an extended time off to recuperate from her shoulder injury.

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In 2010, Maria started off badly, losing in the first round of the Australian Open. More struggles followed, though she did win the Cellular South Cup. After losing in the third round at the French Open, the fourth round at Wimbledon (again to Venus Williams), Maria, and the fourth round at the US Open, Sharapova concluded 2010 with some indifferent play at lesser tournaments. Still, she was ranked No. 18 at the end of the year.

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Maria was healthy now, and ready for action. To open 2011, she reached the fourth round at the Australian Open. After that, her play improved, and at the French Open she reached the semifinals before losing to eventual champion Li Na. She then reached the final at Wimbledon, losing to eighth seed Petra Kvitová. She went on to win the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati, which propelled her to No. 4 in the world. However, the US Open was a major setback, as Sharapova lost in the third round. Despite this, other players were experiencing their own issues, and Sharapova reached world No. 2 before finishing the year at No. 4.

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At this point, Maria was on a comeback, but some work remained to reach No. 1. Opening 2012, she reached the final at the Australian Open before losing to Victoria Azarenka. This edged Maria up to world No. 3, and this improved to world No. 2 after she reached the quarterfinals at the Paris tournament. After some more fine play, Sharapova won the French Open to complete a Career Grand Slam. This made Maria Sharapova only the tenth woman to win all four major titles in her career. It also completed her comeback to the world No. 1 ranking.

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Maria now was a national heroine in Russia, and she got to carry the Russian flag in the Olympic Games. She was the first female to carry the national flag at the Olympics.

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Maria Sharapova now was on top of the world, and you know what that means: the only way left is down. Seeded No. 1 at Wimbledon, she lost in the fourth round and lost her world No. 1 ranking. Sharapova then reached the Olympic final before losing to nemesis Serena Williams. However, at least she climbed back to world No. 2, where she ended the year.

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In 2013, Maria Sharapova began the year strong. She reached the semifinals at the year-opening Australian Open, defeating Venus Williams along the way, before losing to Li Na. Maria then won Indian Wells again. This made Maria world No. 2 behind Serena Williams.

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After some more strong play, Maria won Stuttgart for her 29th career title. However, she proved unable to defeat Serena Williams, losing two finals before losing to Williams. At this point Maria had lost to Williams for 12 straight times. At the French Open, Maria reached the final but lost to Serena Williams again. However, her shoulder injury returned, and after early losses at Wimbledon and another tournament, Maria ended her year early to rest.

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Having taken an extended time away from the tour, Maria began the 2014 campaign ready to go. The rest paid off, but Maria needed some time to return to top form. After a semifinal loss at the 2014 Brisbane International to Serena Williams, Sharapova made it to the 4th round at the Australian Open. She bounced back to defend her title successfully at Stuttgart, then win at Madrid for her ninth clay-court title. Maria then completed her comeback by winning the French Open, defeating Romanian Simona Halep in the final. It was her second French Open title and fifth Grand Slam title. She then reached the fourth round at Wimbledon and the third round at the US Open. Maria ended 2014 ranked at world No. 2, just behind Serena Williams.

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Maria was riding high again as the 2015 season began, and she reached the finals at the Australian Open. However, she lost to Serena Williams in the final, extending her record of frustration against the American. After that, her season went poorly, but she a win in Rome returned Maria to the World No. 2 ranking. However, Maria played sparingly for the remainder of 2015 due to injuries, ending the year at world No. 4 despite playing barely at all during the fall.

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Injuries continued to haunt Maria as 2016 began. She reached the quarterfinals at the Australian Open, losing to nemesis Serena Williams. Then, disaster struck.

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On March 12, 2016, the International Tennis Federation suspended Maria from competitive tennis for two years. This was based on a drug test taken on January 26, 2016 which revealed the presence in Maria's system of meldonium, a heart drug. Maria claimed that the drug finding was the result of ordinary medication given by her family doctor and rules changes about what was permissible. In fact, meldonium is legal in Russia, though not in the United States, and experts have stated that meldonium does not enhance tennis performance. Some alleged that this suspension was due to the political crisis in relations between the United States and Russia, and there was speculation that Maria would just retire. Retirement was not Maria's plan, however, and ultimately the ITF reduced the suspension to only 15 months.

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Maria Sharapova returned to competitive tennis when her 15-month suspension elapsed in April 2017. Playing as if she had never been away, she reached semifinals at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix and commented:
The first few seconds before you enter the arena – it's been a stage of mine since I was a young girl – I've been waiting for this moment for a long time.

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Having lost so much time, Maria was far down in the rankings and now was unable to compete in the 2017 French Open. Injuries began taking their toll, too. After some indifferent play, Maria won a match at the Bank of the West Classic, which sent Maria back into the world top 150. She received a wildcard to the 2017 US Open, which as of this writing remains to be played.

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It must be stated: Maria Sharapova is not beloved within the tight-knit tennis community. She was viciously attacked by her fellow professionals after her positive drug test, including by fellow legends such as John McEnroe and Pat Cash. Jennifer Capriati even said that Maria should be stripped of her 35 professional titles. The barrage of condemnation was endless - it was a sad era for tennis, and it is easy to leap to the conclusion that at least some of it stemmed from the crisis in relations between the United States and Russia.

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Maria lost some sponsorships due to her positive drug test. Nike and TAG Heuer both dropped her, and Porsche delayed some promotional work involving her. Even the United Nations suspended her from her position as goodwill ambassador. However, racquet company HEAD continued their relationship with Maria.

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The subject of Maria Sharapova's personal relationships is a constant subject of speculation. She has been linked to Maroon 5 singer Adam Levine and some other celebrities, but has not had any long-lasting relationships. It is unclear how long she intends to continue playing tennis, but at this point she is a global celebrity herself and her fame will endure regardless of whether she continues on the court or retires to easier pursuits. Maria Sharapova's autobiography, "Unstoppable: My Life So Far," released 12 September 2017, suggests there is a lot of life left in Maria Sharapova's career.


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2017

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