From the shadow of Chernobyl’s nuclear wasteland to international super-stardom and from penniless arrival in the United States, without a word of English, to a fortune of $200 million.
It may sound like the stuff of Hollywood dreams, but the story of Maria Sharapova is a testament to the power of one individual to make it, whatever the odds, whatever the controversy, whatever people think.
On Wednesday in Stuttgart, the 30-year-old will return from a 15-month doping suspension to open the next chapter.
When she takes to the court to face Roberta Vinci, it will be to the consternation of many opponents and the relief, albeit privately, of a women’s tour left flagging by the absence of Serena Williams, probably Sharapova’s only serious rival in the arena-filling business.
Sharapova shot to international fame as a giggly 17-year-old Wimbledon winner in 2004 — the third youngest player to conquer the All England Club’s famous grass courts.
She would go on to win the Australian and US Opens while claiming two titles at the French Open, despite famously likening her movement on Roland Garros’s crushed red brick to a “cow on ice”.
Siberia-born Sharapova first picked up a racquet at the age of four in Sochi, where her Belarus-born parents had settled after escaping the deadly clutches of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.
Spotted by Martina Navratilova, she was encouraged to move to Nick Bollettieri’s Florida academy, the proving ground of Andre Agassi and Monica Seles.
Father Yuri and the seven-year-old Maria left for the US in 1994 with just $700 (644 euros) to their names.
Yuri took odd jobs like dishwashing to finance his daughter’s dreams although visa restrictions meant mother Yelena was back in Russia, separated from her daughter for two years.
When Sharapova was nine, the mighty IMG group spotted her talent and funded the $35,000 fees required for the Bollettieri school.