After a 15-month suspension for drug use, Maria Sharapova returned to the U.S. Open for the first time in three years on Monday night. The 30-year-old put on a memorable performance under the lights of Arthur Ashe Stadium, downing No. 2 seed Simona Halep. Today, she’ll face Timea Babos in the second round of the major.
It’s been over a decade since Sharapova clinched her first Grand Slam championship. At age 17, she defeated Serena Williams in the 2004 Wimbledon final. It was her first of what would be five Grand Slam titles, and it came with a sizable paycheck: £560,500, or about $724,000.
That’s a lot of money for any teenager, particularly for one who grew up poor: At age six, the Russian-born athlete and her dad arrived in the U.S. with just $700. While training at Nick Bollettieri’s Tennis Academy, she slept on a pullout couch next to her dad in a $250-a-month apartment.
And, when 17-year-old Sharapova secured her six-figure check, she headed straight to TJ Maxx.
Maria Sharapova won her first Grand Slam at age 17
Maria Sharapova won her first Grand Slam at age 17Jeff Overs | Getty Images
She recalls in a conversation with Time Money, “There’s a TJ Maxx near our first-ever apartment. I’d go in there with my parents and I would think ‘Wouldn’t it be amazing if I went to a store like [this] and was able to buy it?’”
After winning Wimbledon, “I realized how powerful the mind is,” she continues. “When you put those questions out there, something starts working. There’s an engine in there.”
And yes, she did treat herself to something at the department store: “One of those bright-colored Louis Vuitton bags that I wore for one day.”
That first major paycheck Sharapova brought home was far from the last. The veteran has earned $285 million throughout her tennis career and was the world’s highest-paid female athlete for 11 straight years.
Sharapova has also been thinking about life off the court for several years. She launched candy business Sugarpova in 2012, with the long-term goal of building it into a lifestyle brand after leaving tennis.