Like Anna Kournikova before her, Maria Sharapova is a statuesque, blonde, Russian tennis player that models in between professional tennis tournaments; her most popular modeling gig thus far has been an appearance in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue in 2005. The big difference between Sharapova and Kournikova, however, seems to be that Sharapova is an excellent, powerful tennis player, while Kournikova faded from the pro tennis world pretty quickly to model full-time after failing to achieve success on the court.

Born in Nyagan, in Siberian Russia, on April 19, 1987, Maria began playing tennis at the startlingly young age of four, at the encouragement of her father Yuri. When Maria was 7, she and her father packed up and left Nyagan with about $700 amongst themselves and headed to the United States, where Maria picked up right where she left off with her tennis training, and proceeded to roar through various amateur tournaments and events in the USA and around the world. With her winnings from those matches, she was able to bring her mother Yelena to live with her and her father in the USA two years later. (Her mother had stayed behind in Nyagan when Maria and Yuri departed due to financial constraints.) The three settled in Bradenton, Florida, which is where the family currently makes its home.

Maria turned pro at age 16 in 2003, and made an immediate impact by winning the Bell Challenge in Quebec City (singles) and the Japan Open in Tokyo (also singles). Not a bad start for a player that had been playing Juniors tourneys a few months prior. Maria plays a hard-hitting, extremely mobile style of tennis, much like Venus and Serena Williams play. At 6'2" (188cm) and a slim 115 lbs (52kg), she has the range and freedom of movement to return virtually anything hit at her, and she is very rarely deked by opposing players as her range of vision seems to be extremely acute. She can serve at over 100 MPH and backhand at over 90 MPH. She is able to get a positively wicked curve on some of her harder-hit returns, which disorients a number of opponents, and she has a very good eye for where her opponents are, making it seemingly easy for her to deke them with body language and that wicked backhand when the opportunity to do so presents itself.

Maria entered the 2004 Wimbledon tournament ranked 13th in the world in womens' tennis. After soundly defeating Yulia Beygelzimer in round 1, Anne Keothavong in round 2, Daniela Hantuchova in round 3, Amy Frazier (31) in round 4, then plowing through Ai Sugiyama (11) in the quarterfinals and former Wimbledon champion (in 1999) Lindsay Davenport (5) in the semifinals, she arrived at the finals to face defending Wimbledon womens' champion Serena Williams (1), whom she soundly defeated (6-1, 6-4) to become the youngest womens' champion at Wimbledon since Martina Hingis won it at age 16 in 1997. In doing so she captured her first Grand Slam title and in the process, advanced five ranks in the WTA rankings, from 13 to 8. Watching her face Williams was a tennis fan's delight -- two power players truly fighting to win. Both were consistently serving over 100 MP/H, both running all over the court and both keeping the play alive for a long time. I think that in what was the best display of how powerful they both were, Williams actually broke a few strings on one of her tennis rackets after returning a particularly bullet-like serve from Sharapova.

Watching her play is very interesting, though the fact that she is particularly photogenic makes watching her play interesting regardless. She seems very meticulous; she'll pace back and forth in each direction once after a fault or lost point, every time; she'll bounce the ball in front of her exactly twice before tossing it up and serving it; and she always pumps a fist after scoring. Also, as is fairly common among female tennis players, she has a trademark cry/grunt that comes out after every swing of the racket -- kind of a "unnnnAAAAAIEEHHH!" sound. That sound punctuated each of her returns and serves as I watched her demolish Serena Williams in the womens' finals earlier today. Reportedly, the WTA has told her to tone it down a bit, but personally, I think they're overreacting. It's not as though she's Monica Seles (a prolific, loud grunter) out there, and most of the more powerful female tennis players have developed a grunt at some point in their careers.

Though she does have a modeling contract with IMG Models, I don't expect she'll burn out so quickly like Kournikova did. She seems a very strong and capable tennis player, and hopefully, her championship win at Wimbledon this afternoon is the start of a long and fruitful career in professional tennis. Personally, I'd rather watch her play tennis than see her in a "Making of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition" type of thing, as watching her play tennis is far more entertaining and much more likely to send shivers down one's spine. She is the very definition of a highly technical tennis player.

UPDATE! In early March 2016, Maria admitted that she'd failed a drug test she'd taken in January. At the time of this writing, her punishment is pending, but will likely be four years' suspension from the WTA, which is in line with what other performance-enhancing drug users have received. Maria was caught using meldonium, a heart medication that has long been available prescription-free in eastern Europe and Russia. It is banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and classified as a performance-enhancing drug even before WADA banned it from professional sports. She claims unawareness that it was on WADA's banned substances list, who, admittedly, made its use illegal only very recently (January 1, 2016, to be precise). It has never been approved for use in the United States, where she is based, but still has family in the Eastern Bloc and travels there frequently while touring; presumably, that's how and where she got it. In what may have been one of the first instances its kind, Maria held a press conference herself to announce that she'd failed a random drug test and took accountability for doing so, saying she'd been taking it for ten years for a legitimate medical condition, but wasn't aware that it was on WADA's list of banned substances. Thus, one of less than five career Grand Slam winners is likely to get the boot for a while, which is a shame, really, because Maria is otherwise an upstanding, positive role model for pretty much anyone. She came from nothing to become one of the greatest tennis players to ever live. If you like, you can watch her press conference. I'll update again when her penalty is meted out.

UPDATE #2! It appears Maria may not be suspended after all, after a thorough WADA investigation determined that she had been taking meldonia for a legitimate medical condition and have confirmed that she didn't know it was a banned substance, which, admittedly, it became only in 2016. Here's Maria's press release regarding the WADA/ITF findings:

Today with their decision of a two year suspension, the ITF tribunal unanimously concluded that what I did was not intentional. The tribunal found that I did not seek treatment from my doctor for the purpose of obtaining a performance enhancing substance. The ITF spent tremendous amounts of time and resources trying to prove I intentionally violated the anti-doping rules and the tribunal concluded I did not. You need to know that the ITF asked the tribunal to suspend me for four years – the required suspension for an intentional violation -- and the tribunal rejected the ITF’s position.

While the tribunal concluded correctly that I did not intentionally violate the anti-doping rules, I cannot accept an unfairly harsh two-year suspension. The tribunal, whose members were selected by the ITF, agreed that I did not do anything intentionally wrong, yet they seek to keep me from playing tennis for two years. I will immediately appeal the suspension portion of this ruling to CAS, the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

I have missed playing tennis and I have missed my amazing fans, who are the best and most loyal fans in the world. I have read your letters. I have read your social media posts and your love and support has gotten me through these tough days. I intend to stand for what I believe is right and that’s why I will fight to be back on the tennis court as soon as possible.

Love, Maria

P.S. My lawyer prepared a short summary of how the ITF process works so I thought I would pass it along to my fans so you too can be aware of what the ITF rules call for.

If the arbitration does not side with Maria, she faces a two-year suspension from playing professionally. She has not played in 2016 as it is; and who knows when the discipline phase will begin.

There has been some public discourse about WADA removing sanctions for users of meldonium who were taking it prior to its ban, but nothing formally announced yet.

Awards:

Too many to list! Try ESPN's page on Maria Sharapova.

Victories (bold denotes a Grand Slam victory):

Again, too many to list! Try ESPN's page on Maria Sharapova.

Some additional trivia on Maria Sharapova:

  • She represents Russia when she plays, but maintains residence in Bradenton, Florida, where she trains at Nick Bollettieri's Tennis Academy.
  • Other than her tennis training repertoire, she keeps in shape by jazz dancing.
  • At age 6, she participated in an exhibition tournament in Moscow alongside Martina Navratilova, who helped get her into Bollettieri's when she arrived in Florida.
  • Plays right-handed, although she is a true ambidexter, and was undecided about which hand to use dominantly until her professional career began in 2003. This explains why she's able to make a backhand return exceed 90 MPH.
  • Speaks English and Russian fluently.
  • Always travels with her father, Yuri, and her two coaches, Michael Baroch and Robert Lansdorp, all three of whom are frequently accused of coaching from the sidelines.
  • As of 2006, she makes about £13.4 million per year, 90% of it from endorsements. As of 2016, she endorses, among others, Porsche, Tag Heuer, the Tiffany, Nike, Gatorade, Tropicana, Canon, Fred Perry, René Lacoste, Cole Haan (she designs clothing and shoes for them as well), Head racquets, and, until her failed drug test in 2016, the YOUTEK IG Instinct model racquet. Her endorsement deal with Nike had been worth $70 million over eight years; her deals with Nike and Porsche were terminated in 2016 with the announcement of her drug test failure.
  • She appeared in the 2005 and 2006 editions of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, and was voted "hottest female athlete" by viewers of ESPN in 2007 and for four consecutive years by readers of FHM.
  • In 2012, she introduced a line of candies imaginatively called Sugarpova.
  • In the 2010s, she's developed quite the rivalry with fellow former Soviet citizen Victoria Azarenka, meeting her many times at all the Grand Slam events, seemingly alternately winning and losing. Azaranka and Sharapova also have taken turns holding the world #1 ranking.

Sources:

http://www.mariaworld.net/
http://www.sugarpova.com/
http://www.wimbledon.org/
http://espn.go.com/sports/tennis/rankings/_/type/2

"Sometimes, Mr Mudd kill; sometimes, Mr Mudd not kill"
Thoughts on Witnessing the Apex of Sharapova

Consciously or not, the game of tennis is a powerful evocation of another game, a game which has cast an enormous shadow on contemporary society; that of Pong. The flow of play is similar in both cases, but whereas the influence of tennis on the course of world events has been insignificant, Pong has produced a multi-billion pound industry, a new technological society, and you and I. I shall now become a participant in my own immortalisation as I set down my thoughts on witnessing the victory of Maria Sharapova at Wimbledon in 2004, albeit that I did so remotely, via the television wave. Sharapova avoided missing ball SEMI-COLON high score.

Pong was a game in which two bats and a ball participated in the perversion of the linear. Whereas the bats and ball of tennis are rounded, feminine, the bats and the ball of Pong were of masculine form, albeit that their sound - a soft beep - was a feminine sound. In this respect Sharapova is an amplification of Pong, her form is a hyper-feminine amplification of the first stage of sexual womankind. Her cry is a feminine cry, that of the pain of childbirth; her involuntary gasps and grunts illustrate the lack of control inherent in the female condition. She is a wolf, cleaning the new-born with her tongue. She is steeped in blood; 'soul of a woman was created below', to paraphrase Robert Plant.

Sharapova was not born of woman, she was instead born of the atom, born in the nuclear fire of Chernobyl. Fleeing the force which gave her life, Sharapova took her family to Florida, home of America's ailing space programme. Sharapova was a product of an age which had lost its faith in nuclear power and in space exploration, the two most prominent aspects of 'hard science' - the impressive, expensive, physical manifestations of physics which dominated human society in the 20th century, the century of steel. Sharapova was not of steel, however, she was of polymer, made of more advanced materials than metal.

And now she is champion of us all. No-one on Earth possessed of a womb can bat a ball over a string net with as much grace, force and precision as Sharapova; the force of her serve is sufficient to stun an enraged leopard, yet her weapon is a simple bat of carbon-fibre and twine. Just as the Aborigine tribes chose to fight with a sporting weapon - the boomerang - and just as the Amazonian peoples defended themselves with yo-yos and snooker cues, and just as the ancient Picts marauded through Scotland armed with the hula-hoop, so Sharapova is encased in a laser cocoon. Our minds are too limited to perceive the power she wields in her right arm.

Dieu et Slazenger et mon droit. Most often 'droit' in this context is interpreted as in 'human right', but it has a more fundamental definition; my right arm is the arm with which I wield my sword. 'Human rights' are human creations with no objective basis in reality; but force is real, it exists. The tyrant says that all power comes from the barrel of a gun, and although we wish it were not so, it is so. All those who are aware of the impending heat death of the universe must surely agree that nature does not abhor a vacuum; instead, when the totality of time and space is laid out on paper, it will consist of a tiny blip of matter followed by an eternity of empty nothingness in which the only measurable item is heat, a few fractions above absolute zero, cooling for eternity at an eternally-slowing rate. No, nature resists matter. Everything that exists must fight to emanate itself; it must fight for its continued existence; and ultimately it will fail and die. Maria Sharapova has fought, literally with the power of her right arm, and she is champion of the world. One day she will fail, and one day she will be part of the universe. All lives fail, and ultimately no-one wins at Wimbledon; they come back the next year and the next, until they no longer win.

On court Sharapova chooses to wear white, the colour of surgery, the better to show the blood. But there is no blood on her, for her scalpel moves with such speed and fury as to cauterise the wounds she produces. She is of blood, but she is not covered with blood. There is blood on her hands, but not on her tight, tight cotton dress. Much of her skin is open to the elements, for she is unafraid of the sun, and of the wind and rain of Wimbledon, of the choking smog of London. She is an element herself; she stands with the sun and the wind on an equal footing. Her opponents are leaves, pounded and burned and blown away. Serena Williams has a mythology of her own, being One of The Two, yet Sharapova is One of The Everything.

We feed on Maria Sharapova. The television director and the newspaper editor must pray to the Gods each night that Sharapova is not disfigured in a painting accident, or that she does not gain weight. The combination of youth, beauty, and the involuntary woman noises she makes whilst under duress, the combination of these things results in a deep well of erotic power. It is often said that the most irresistible force on Earth is that of the erect penis; we will never know how many wells Sharapova's image and manner have drilled into the soil of man, how much oil has been spilled on her account. I do not ordinarily follow the tennis, but I found that the sight of Maria Sharapova - particularly that of her legs - caused me to pause whilst changing the channel. I am not often swayed by the pleasures of the flesh, but I find that the flesh of my mind is drawn to Sharapova nonetheless.

There are plenty of attractive girls in the world. I have been to dinner parties with some of them, although as I have already stated I have learned to treat beauty with indifference. The media's fascination with Sharapova stems from her combination of beauty and substance. One without the other is not enough. Lindsay Davenport is a substantial tennis player, but she is plain. No-one dreams of her. Sharapova has looks, and unlike the empire of Ozymandius, Sharapova has substance. She has been thoroughly weatherproofed. A lack of substance has not hurt the ongoing success story that is Anna Kournikova, but I find it unlikely that a traveller, hundreds of years from now, will stand beside what remains of her empire and read aloud its final testament; there will simply be nothing there. As a creature of the universe Maria Sharapova - an anagram of 'a sharp ova', perhaps a coincidence - will permeate the grains of sand on the desert and the clouds in the sky, and those of other skies and other deserts on other worlds. We will not read her testament any more than we will read that of Kournikova - the difference is that we will not have to.

Sources
A description of the woman's blood moon ritual, a secret revealed to few before the dawn of the internet:
http://www.spiralrhythms.org/tantric/rituals/01_rituals.shtml

A page of medick, which suggests that a woman of average weight contains roughly five kilogrammes of blood:
http://www.manuelsweb.com/blood_loss.htm

Blood and shit and death:
http://www.wdxcyber.com/ncancer2.htm

Blood and milk and life:
http://www.lalecheleague.org/FAQ/blood.html

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