Aged just 17, she was seeded 13th going into the competition and no one would have fancied her to advance further than the first few rounds, let alone get to the final. Though the Russian was not a complete unknown at this point in her career, no one expected her to do what she did. She was also no stranger to causing an upset. At Wimbledon in 2003, she entered the tournament as an unseeded wildcard and managed to achieve her first ever win over a top twenty player when she bested 11th seed Jelena Dokić. She was eliminated in the following round but this was, in hindsight, a clear indication of things to come.
Sharapova faced an impossible task in the final. She was up against top seed Serena Williams, who was aiming to win her 3rd consecutive Wimbledon title. At this stage in her career, Serena had already won 6 Grand Slam titles in total, showing just how daunting a challenge this match would be for Sharapova. Against all odds, Sharapova came out on top as the match ended after just 73 minutes as she won the match in straight sets. It was an incredible victory and many considered it to be the biggest upset in modern tennis history. BBC Sport journalist Caroline Cheese remarked that it was Sharapova’s “remarkable display of power and poise” that helped her to beat her opponent as Williams “was sent rushing all over the court.” At 17, Sharapova became Wimbledon’s third youngest female champion in history, behind 15 year old Charlotte Dod in 1887 and a 16 year old Martina Hingis in 1997. She also became the first and only Russian female tennis player to ever win Wimbledon.
Sharapova’s Wimbledon triumph was not only a defining moment for Sharapova’s tennis career, but also one for women’s tennis in general. It represented a challenge to the dominance of the Williams’ sisters and provided the women’s game with a shocking underdog story which helped to generate more interest in women’s tennis. She has continued to help women’s tennis grow as a sport to this day and broken many records in terms of viewing figures. According to data from European sports broadcaster Eurosport, Sharapova’s 2012 WTA Miami final against Polish player Agnieszka Radwańska recorded the highest ever viewing figures for a women’s tennis match. Just two years later Sharapova helped to break this record when she beat Romanian Simona Halep at the 2014 French Open. The match attracted a massive 3.8 million viewers, a 24% increase on the previous record.
The Williams sisters have dominated women’s tennis for the past 15 years. Since Serena won her first Grand Slam at the Australian open in 1999, the William’s sisters have won an unbelievable 26 Grand Slams between them, most notably winning 10 Wimbledon titles in the past 15 years. Due to a persistent shoulder injury, Sharapova has not challenged perhaps as much as expected but this has not stopped her. She has now won a total of 5 grand slam titles since 2004. In the same time frame, this has only bettered by Serena Williams (12), and is equal to retired Belgian player Justine Henin (5). This shows that Sharapova has sustained a credible challenge to the Williams sister’s dominance since she burst onto the scene in 2004. Sharapova also won a silver medal at the 2012 Olympics in London, coming second only to – you guessed it – Serena Williams. Whilst Serena Williams is still the highest ranked women’s tennis player in 2015, Sharapova is 5 years younger than her American rival, meaning that one would expect the Russian to continue playing long after Serena retires. Injuries permitting, Sharapova is sure to be the one to beat once Serena calls time on her illustrious career.
BY - Owen Holland
28 May 2015