Maria Sharapova Wrote the Book for Champion Entrepreneurs

The tennis star became a global sensation at 17. Two decades later, she’s built a sprawling business around her personal brand.

(Bloomberg) — Maria Sharapova has an approach that’s served her well.

The winner of five Grand Slam tournaments, she’s also an architect of the modern athlete’s business playbook. What was radical when she was killing it on the court has now become conventional wisdom: Don’t wait until you’re done playing to figure out how to make a living afterwards.

During this month’s Bloomberg Screentime conference in Los Angeles, she explained how she turned tennis stardom into a long-term business opportunity. 

Sharapova’s critical business moment came in 2004, when she beat Serena Williams to win Wimbledon. Then 17, the Russian was transformed into a global brand. Her deal with Motorola—about to debut its iconic Razr phone—put her on billboards and TV while opening the door to other megabrands. Her endorsements included such brands as TAG Heuer, Porsche and Evian. 

“It was the moment I learned that sport is about so much more than winning and losing—it’s a business,” Sharapova, 36, said. “You have a platform and a voice.”

After retiring in 2020, she started building that business. Most recently, she signed on with Aman Hotels as its first-ever global wellness ambassador. In that role, she will create multi-day retreats for guests, starting early next year with a session at the Aman property in Phuket, Thailand. At the core of the deal is Sharapova’s belief that her years on the court—especially the training and discipline that fueled her championship runs—provide a framework for high performance in all sorts of careers, especially for women.

Sharapova noted that 80% of female chief executives in the Fortune 500 played competitive sports at some point early in their lives. “All those skills that they built, they were part of this first chapter,” she said.

She’s also keeping an eye on the sport that vaulted her to superstardom. Sharapova was featured in the recent Netflix series Break Point, helping explain the mentality and experience of current top-tier players. On one episode, she noted not just the success, but the process employed by 19-year-old US Open champion Coco Gauff.

“I like the way in which she won,” Sharapova said. “The fact that she had to go through the ups and downs and then achieve something huge. She had the breathing space to fail and get back on the stage.”

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