When Yuri Sharapov and his wife Yelena first spotted their four-year-old daughter Maria hitting tennis balls in Sochi, they dared to dream.
Recommended by tennis legend Martina Navratilova that young Maria’s talents would benefit from leaving the communist country, the ambitious parents took a huge gamble.
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With just $700 savings, and without a word of English to fall back on, Yuri and Maria emigrated to the US in 1994 — due to visa restrictions, Yelena joined two years later.
READ: Tennis reacts to Sharapova bombshell
Maria started learning at the IMG Academy in Florida, which had trained the likes of Andre Agassi, Monica Seles and Anna Kournikova.
As the years went on, as her abilities improved, the decision to switch countries paid massive dividends.
In what was a down year for the Russian superstar, she earned $1 million in prize money and $6 million in endorsements in 2019. Putting her seventh on the highest paid female athletes list.
Forbes reported the five-time Grand Slam winner is just one of four female athletes to have earned $20 million in a year.
Sharapova walks away from the sport with staggering career earnings from prize money, endorsements and appearances totalling $325 million, according to Forbes.
READ: Maria’s noisy debut with Playboy model
The figure ranks her second all-time among women, behind only Serena Williams ($350 million), and comes from endorsement deals with Nike, Evian, Porsche and Tag Heuer.
She ended up winning five major titles, completing the career Grand Slam, becoming the best player on the planet for a period of time and rivalling the American superstar for attention.
There was also the personal line of candy line — Sugarpova — which came under fire for its promotion of sugar snacks, which specifically tried to target a young audience.
On the court, she gained notoriety for having the loudest grunt in tennis.
Her ear-splitting shrieking and screaming during points was so loud it was recorded more than 100 decibels.
On the face of it, what she has been through, the vision of her parents represent an incredible story and journey. One that should be celebrated.
However, there was one specific moment of controversy which will always overshadow her career.
At the 2016 Australian Open, Sharapova tested positive for meldonium, which had been classified as a banned substance a few weeks earlier.
Ignorance of the new Wada rules was no excuse and she ended up serving a 15-month drugs ban.
The spell tainted her achievements and the amazing ride she had been on since leaving Russia as a child.
When she returned to the WTA circuit in April 2017, she was never the same player and only reached one Slam quarter-final.
A shoulder injury also prevented her from being competitive against the world’s best, pushing her to the margins of the game as new stars emerged.
Sharapova was a tormented soul last month in Melbourne, dropping to 373rd in the world and losing in the first round of the Australian Open.
The 6-3 6-4 loss to Croatian No19 seed Donna Vekic was one of her most humbling defeats and you could tell by her body language and words she was on the brink of quitting.
Now she has gone, at the age of 32, there will always be great memories of her feats and successes.
But that period in the doldrums, as she pondered serving a drugs ban, will forever leave a black mark against her name.
This article originally appeared on The Sun and was reproduced with permission.
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