Maria Sharapova Deserves Respect For Taking Female Earnings To A Whole New Level

The Russian won't be missed by all but her influence on women’s tennis shouldn't be forgotten
13:46, 27 Feb 2020

Maria Sharapova has called time on her glistening career having won every single Grand Slam event and established herself as one of the female powerhouses of the modern era. She shot to superstardom as a 17-year-old when she won Wimbledon, shocking Serena Williams in the final, yet her career fizzled out after a shoulder injury meant she could no longer compete at the highest level.

In was perhaps fitting that Sharapova signed off in the only way she knows how, in an exclusive essay for Vogue and Vanity Fair. According to Forbes, she was the highest-paid female athlete in the world for eleven consecutive years and took female earning to a whole new level on and off the court. 

Age just eleven she had already signed with IMG and Nike and the sponsorships would come rolling in as she developed into one of the best players in the world. After that Wimbledon win things simply went beserk for her off the field. She won $1 million in prize money for that success and became the media’s darling yet the value of her Nike deal doubled as her agents signed her up to almost every sponsor going.

Canon, Motorola, Tag Heuer and Colgate-Palmolive were just some of the big brands who did deals with the Russian teenager after her Wimbledon win. She was a money-making machine. She went from earning $3 million a year to over $18 million, which exceeded what any other sportswomen on the planet was making at that time. She created her own brand of sweets named Sugarpova and built up a huge social media following online, all of this lead to her becoming one of the biggest names on the planet.

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In the noughties, she was the superstar of female tennis, and despite the success of both Williams sisters she seemed to be a more attractive proposition for investors. On the court, tennis finally had a worthy rival for Serena Williams and they pushed each other to the limit, although the American certainly got the better of Sharapova during their meetings. A lifetime record 20-3 in favour of Wiliams certainly supports that.

But Sharapova was always a contender, from 2004 right up until 2015. She won five Grand Slams and reached a further five finals before she tested positive for Meldonium at the Australian Open. This not only took the shine off her previous achievements but essentially spelt the end of her career, in an unofficial sense.

She unsurprisingly lost several major sponsors although Nike somewhat controversially stood by their athlete despite the 15-month ban she was slapped with for her misdemeanours. For many people, this confirmed what they had felt about Sharapova for some time. She was respected, but not widely loved by the tennis audience and those on the circuit.

She made money, a hell of a lot of it. Her father arrived in the United States with just $700 but Sharapova made over $325 million (£252m) if you include prize money, endorsements and appearances, a figure that only Serena Williams can better.

Her comeback was undeserving of the success she had had in the past as she faced early exits from major tournaments and bounced around the lower rankings. Questions were raised as to whether this was the real Sharapova we were seeing without the athletic benefits of Meldonium but she was the wrong side of 30 by the time she returned to the circuit and had suffered from serious shoulder issues throughout her career. 

As a brand Sharapova was immense. As a tennis player, she was talented. She was a superstar teen who grew into a frosty, ice-cold figure at the top of the game before being brought back to earth with a bump in 2016. Her retirement perhaps comes three years too late but if anything the fact she had her heart set on making a comeback shows the fighting spirit that made her Wimbledon champion at the age of 17.

Her farewell from the sport will not be greeted with tears or misty-eyed memories, but she will forever be respected for the influence she had on women’s sport. We’ll leave the final words up to Sharapova herself.

“Looking back now, I realize that tennis has been my mountain. My path has been filled with valleys and detours, but the views from its peak were incredible.”