Sharapova becomes world Number One

Maria Sharapova's combination of looks and determination have turned the Russian tennis star into a sports phenomenon who transcends her game...

 Little more than a year after she shot to stardom with her 2004 triumph at Wimbledon, the 18-year-old has become the fifth-youngest woman to claim the world Number One ranking and the first Russian woman to achieve the feat.

It hardly matters that Sharapova's final step to the summit - she finally displaced American Lindsay Davenport atop the rankings on Monday - came after a week in which she was idled by injury.

"The computer doesn't lie," was Sharapova's blithe assessment as she contemplated capturing the coveted No. 1 despite nursing a right pectoral muscle strain that prompted her to withdraw from the WTA Tournament that ended in Toronto on Sunday. 
"You have to achieve something in order to get there. It has been an amazing two years," she said.

Amazing, indeed. Sharapova was an unheralded 17-year-old when she became the first Russian to win Wimbledon, dethroning two-time defending champion Serena Williams in the final.

She became the second-youngest Wimbledon winner in the Open era behind Martina Hingis, who was 16 when she won in 1997.

She capped her milestone 2004 with a victory in the WTA Tour Championship, the culmination of a season that saw her rocket from No. 32 at the end of 2003 to fourth in the world.

While she remains in search of her next Grand Slam title, Sharapova has stalked the Number One ranking for much of 2005, meanwhile reigning over a global endorsement empire.

Sharapova is the world's best paid sportswoman and has scooped some $25m in sponsorships and endorsements, with sultry images of the player selling everything from signature perfume and clothing lines to mobile phones.

Japan recently issued a postage stamp featuring her image, and her decision to wear shoes flecked with real gold at this year's Wimbledon tournament sparked a fashion furore.

But as Sharapova's ascent to the summit of the rankings showed, she is more than a marketing phenomenon, and true tennis fans are entranced by her gritty, grunting competitiveness.

The climb began in earnest when Sharapova arrived at the age of nine at Nick Bollettieri's Tennis Academy in Florida, accompanied by her father, Yuri with her mother, Yelena, remaining in Siberia for the next two years.

Bollettieri has credited their faith and determination with instilling the same qualities in the young player, who is now reaping the rewards.

"Of course it's a dream come true to be able to win a Grand Slam and be number one in the world," she says. "It definitely puts a smile on your face."