Maria Sharapova burst onto the women's professional tennis circuit in 2001. Four years later, she reached No. 1 in the world tennis rankings. It came just over 12 months after her Wimbledon win in 2004. It wasn't just her play on the court, grass or clay that turned heads either. Sharapova's stunning good looks made new tennis fans all over the world. But Sharapova isn't just about looking good, as she has had the skills to prove she belongs at the top of the Women's Tennis Association's rankings.
At just 30-years old, the Russian star was the highest paid female athlete in the world for 11 consecutive years, according to Forbes. In 2015, Sharapova's endorsements alone netted her $23 million. In 2016, Sharapova's world came crashing down when she was suspended for taking meldonium. The banned substance caused her to be suspended for 24 months, although her ban was was reduced to 15 months.
Sharapova finally returned from her year-plus ban at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix in April 2017. Her return was a success for a player coming off of such a long layoff. Sharapova made it to the semifinals where she lost to Kristina Mladenovic. Despite the loss, Sharapova has looked good on and off the tennis court, and she will be a difficult opponent for anyone during the 2018 tennis season.
15 Model Or Tennis Star?
Sharapova was featured on the cover of August 2017's The Edit Magazine. Throughout the cover piece, Sharapova was presented in classy ensembles that showed her as a woman moving into a new phase of her career and life. Sharapova was showcased as the fun-loving girl next door at times, while other images depicted her more as a business woman confident of the road ahead. The feature, like many, was a total 180-degree turn from her tennis career. Non-sports fans flipping through the pages of The Edit Magazine many not realize that the model is actually an accomplished tennis star. Unlike others in the sport, Sharapova has been able to transcend sports and into the mainstream. Although she may not be as well-known as some athletes, she has been able to use her looks to open doors for her. When her tennis career ends, she can look forward to a second career as a full-time model.
14 Must See TV
Sharapova is already known for her beauty, but she is probably less known for being on television. Besides appearing on TV for the many tennis events she has ben involved with over the years, Maria has also traded her tennis outfit for a beautiful dress to appear at the desk of some late night talk show hosts. This is a great way for fans to see how fun and insightful she can be while also being able to fully appreciate how beautiful she can be when she isn't going all-out on the tennis court (although she still manages to look absolutely stunning doing that as well). Let's hope she decides to do interviews like these more often, as we'll definitely be tuning in!
13 Sharapova At Vanity Fair Party
In February 2017, Sharapova turned heads at Vanity Fair's Hollywood Oscar Party. The tennis celebrity looked more like a movie star as she walked the magazine's red carpet. For the event, Sharapova dazzled under the bright Los Angeles lights as she showed off a David Koma dress with a slit up the side. It wasn't the first time Sharapova was invited to the Vanity Fair party. The Russian attended the 2016 event, too. There, Sharapova wowed those in attendance with a glittery white outfit that put her tennis gear to shame. She wasn't the only WTA star who let her hair down at the Hollywood soiree in 2016. Tennis rival Serena Williams joined her as the two most recognizable women's players indulged in a night out.
12 WTA Return
Before Sharapova became a WTA Grand Slam winner and one of the top players on the circuit, she was mostly known for her stunning good looks. Many sports fans and journalists overlooked her tennis talent, and focused solely on her beauty instead. However, Sharapova proved that she isn't just a beautiful woman, but a strong athlete too. For her return to the WTA in April 2017, Sharapova was built up as a comeback of the year candidate. Unfortunately, her return was overshadowed by Rafael Nadal's US Open win in September. Sharapova didn't win a Grand Slam in 2017, and she didn't make it to a final until October at the Tianjin Open. She won the championship, defeating Aryna Sabalenka to lift her first trophy since 2015. When this photo of her was taken at the start of the season, it showcased her girl next door looks. But don't let that fool you as she is deadly on the tennis court.
11 Sharapova On The Beach
Ahead of Sharapova's competitive tennis return, many fans wondered if she could still "go" on the professional stage. Four months ahead of her WTA return in Germany, Sharapova was snapped by paparazzi during a vacation to Hawaii. The images of her strolling the beaches turned heads around the world. It reminded everyone that Sharapova isn't just a great tennis player, but she looks like a runway model. The 6ft 2in Sharapova showed off her professional physique during her vacation, and plenty of fans eagerly anticipated her return to the tennis circuit. Although she was serving the final few months of her tennis exile, Sharapova was at least doing it in style. Not only was Sharapova caught by the paparazzi spying on her, but she posted several selfies on her social media for fans to see.
10 US Open dress
The 2017 US Open was Sharapova's return to Grand Slam events. To mark her return to the top of the WTA world, Sharapova unveiled a smart, stylish, black tennis dress for the tournament. Manufactured by Nike and designed by Riccardo Tisci, this black number featured Swarovski crystal and lace. It doesn't seem like the type of outfit to wear on a tennis court and to get sweaty. For Sharapova, it was the ideal ensemble to return to the top of the sport. Nike and Sharapova marketed the reveal of the dress on social media, and made its unveiling an event. Once shown to the world, social media was set alight by photos of the tennis player wearing the little black number. Fans could pick up their very own dress too. It only cost them $500!
9 Looking Strong At The Porsche Tennis Grand Prix
In April 2017, the former three-time Porsche Tennis Grand Prix champion made a triumphant return to the WTA circuit. Although Sharapova didn't win her fourth title at the tournament, she did make it to the semifinals. Sharapova won in the first, second and third rounds by straight sets, showing that she still had "it" despite her 15-month ban. Sharapova looked to be set for another win when she met Mladenovic. She was victorious in the first set, but couldn't top her opponent over the next two. Physically, Sharapova was able to show the same strength that made her a top WTA player prior to her ban. She also showed that she was in no way in need of taking performance enhancing drugs.
8 US Open Return
Although Sharapova was absent from the first three WTA Grand Slams of 2017, she returned to the US Open in September 2017. The tennis star was entered as a wild card at the tournament, and nearly caused major waves. Despite being pushed to three sets in in rounds one and two, Sharapova dispatched Sofia Kenin in straight sets in the third round. Sharapova was one step away from the quarterfinals, but she couldn't overcome 16th seeded Anastasija Sevastova. Despite winning the first set, Sevastova defeated Sharapova 6-4 and 6-2 in the next two frames. Sharapova's performance against second seed Simona Halep was the source for her emotion in the picture above. It was a tremendous victory for the Russian, as Sharapova showed she still has "it" during Grand Slam play.
7 More Magazine Features
Sharapova's return to tennis in 2017 has led a number of magazines to feature her on their pages. Unsurprisingly, a majority of the publications haven't been sports related magazines. Rather, Sharapova has been pictured in many fashion and lifestyle publications around the world. The pictorials once again blur the lines between Sharapova the tennis star and Sharapova the model. The images published in one magazine were accompanied by an interview with Sharapova. It covered her life and career; and even her similarities to Russian tennis player Anna Kournikova. The two were long compared to one another, but the difference was Sharapova won tennis titles. The magazine's piece was another example of life after tennis for the Russian. Sharapova has stated she didn't expect to still be playing after 30, and if she wants to put up her racket any time soon, she will be able to find a home on the cover of many fashion magazines.
6 Italian Open
The Italian Open is one of the top non-Grand Slam WTA events of the season. Therefore, it was a major tournament for Sharapova to compete in when she arrived in Rome during the spring. It was a tournament Sharapova had won three times previously with the most recent Italian Open title coming in 2015. Sharapova was playing in the second round of the tournament when she retired due to a thigh injury on May 16. It would keep her out until mid-July. Sharapova's injury coincided with the announcement that the French Open wouldn't let her compete as a wild card entrant. Although some believed she quit the Italian Open due to being unable to compete at Roland Garros, her injury was proven thanks to the long layoff she had. Her injury was testament to the difficulties of playing top-level tennis, and when Sharapova returned in July, it took her some time before she finally won her first trophy since returning.
5 Tianjin Open
On October 15, Sharapova won her 36th career singles title. It came at the Tianjin Open when the tennis star defeated Sabalenka. It may not have been the same as winning a Grand Slam or even the Italian Open, but it was a tour win that re-affirmed her return. After her triumph in China, Sharapova was all smiles. She seemed re-born after her exile from professional tennis. Sharapova was pictured during the trophy ceremony wearing a Nike jacket. Nike, Sharapova's main sponsor, may have wavered in its support of her when the initial ban was announced. However, the apparel company continued to back her despite its $12.5m a year investment being on the sidelines. It was a perfect moment for both the tennis player and the apparel company. It showed her return to the limelight and the company's swoosh was there in every picture.
4 Sharapova Returns From Injury
After 15 months out of competitive action, Sharapova wasn't up to the physical demands of professional tennis. Some may have seen it as her body breaking down without performance enhancing drugs, others will have seen it as over training and strain on the body. Regardless, Sharapova had a two-month layoff during the 2017 WTA season. At this year's Italian Open, Sharapova early retired due to injury during her match with Mirjana Lucic-Baroni. She returned in July, but in a less competitive way, playing for the Orange County Breakers in a World Team Tennis match. The injury cost her the chance to play at Wimbledon; and it nearly cost her a chance to compete at the US Open. This photo was taken in her World Team Tennis return, and it was at a time when here entry in the US Open was called into question. Tennis experts didn't want the tournament to give her a wild card berth, which it ultimately did.
3 Recovering And Recouping
During her summer injury layoff, Sharapova was photographed relaxing and recovering. This image appeared on the tennis star's Instagram feed in July. It was shortly before Sharapova returned to competitive action with the World Team Tennis circuit. The Instagram post was published using the app's boomerang setting, so followers could see here repeatedly jump into the water. It received over 380,000 views and 500 comments on the day it was posted. It proved despite the drug ban by the WTA and her long absence from the sports world, that Sharapova still has "it" when it comes to fans. It wasn't long until Sharapova was back on the tennis court, turning heads in a professional capacity. Her graceful dive while on holiday was the perfect recovery time she needed ahead of the US Open and her Tianjin Open title in October.
2 Preparing For Her Next Tournament
With one WTA tournament trophy to her name in 2017, Sharapova is continuing her preparation for things to come. Her recent Instagram training photo shows her continued dedication and progress as a tennis player. Although she has only won one tournament this year and played in only a handful of competitions due to fitness, Sharapova has earned over $540,000 from playing. The WTA season won't officially end until November 26 at the L&T Mumbai Open. But Sharapova's season is already finished. She is training hard for next year, and many tennis experts believe she will be the top player to beat on the circuit. The new WTA season will be served up on January 1, and Sharapova should be at the Australian Open 15 days later.
1 Still Loved By The Fans
Despite the time off and negative publicity surrounding her anti-doping ban, Sharapova has remained popular with fans around the globe. Her win at the Tianjin Open in October proved how much her fans in the Far East love watching her play. Now fully fit and ready to play a full season, tennis fans will get to see Sharapova ready to play the best tennis of her life. She is expected to begin a long-term rivalry against fellow tennis star Serena Williams. It should see the two clash numerous times over the next two to three years. The players are expected to be the top female players on the circuit. Although Sharapova recently finished her 2017 season with a disappointing loss on home soil in the Kremlin Cup, fans will be anticipating her every serve, backhand and volley in 2018.