Hottest, richest and sexiest, but Maria Sharapova is a fallen angel

Jun 09, 2016, 08:28 IST | Mark Staniforth

London: Maria Sharapova has been shaped by superlatives since she announced her arrival on the world tennis scene as a sweet-faced 16-year-old in 2003, swatting and swinging her way to the Wimbledon fourth round.

Maria Sharapova at the Paris Fashion Week on October 5, 2015. Pic/Getty Images
Maria Sharapova at the Paris Fashion Week on October 5, 2015. Pic/Getty Images

Hottest. Richest. Sexiest. Loudest: they have clung to Sharapova with the regularity that her famous backhand winners find the lines, perpetuating the image of a girl for whom her sport is only a small part of the hype.

Other factors
Now, though, all of that must compete for attention with a ban from competition after the Russian revealed she failed a drug test at this January's Australian Open.

Having fallen foul of a change to WADA's list of banned substances, though, Sharapova insisted: "I don't want to end my career this way." She is now appealing the two-year ban given to her.

Anna Kournikova
Anna Kournikova

That is in keeping with the steely on-court demeanour that has taken her to the top of her sport. Right from the start, when Sharapova blinked out from the dais of her first post-match interview at the All England Club after a dominant win over Ashley Harkleroad, she made clear another Anna Kournikova was not within our midst.

"Sometimes (people) think that men are sort of like tough and they're big and they're power, and girls are all sweet and pinkish," she said in the clipped, no-nonsense tones of one who was already assured of her destiny. "My dream is to be number one in the world."

The comparisons with the notoriously under-achieving Kournikova were as inevitable as they were quickly
obliterated. For all her mounting business interests and her looks, though, Sharapova also proved she had what it took to triumph on the tennis court.

Twelve months on from her Wimbledon debut, Sharapova returned to SW19 where she became the third youngest woman to win the title, vanquishing Serena Williams with a performance of staggering maturity on Centre Court; so impressive that over a decade on it remains the blueprint for brash new arrivals aiming to take the sport by storm.

Maria's reason
When announcing her failed drug test, Sharapova said she started taking meldonium in 2006 to combat illness problems, which came on top of her well-publicised injuries.

It was a mental lapse that brought her downfall, though, as she admitted failing to check an updated list of banned substances sent on email by WADA in December which now contained the medicine she had been taking - legally - for a decade.

The consequences of that are now clear, and it remains to be seen when - if ever - we shall see her on the tennis court again.

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