2004 Wimbledon: Maria Sharapova’s stunning SW19 triumph – 20 years on

Maria Sharapova with the Wimbledon title in 2004
Maria Sharapova won Wimbledon 20 years ago.

It is one of the most memorable triumphs in Wimbledon history.

And July 3rd will mark 20 years to the day since Maria Sharapova claimed the title at SW19, shocking the tennis world with a scintillating run at the All England Club.

Two decades on, we look back at an epic run that put Sharapova on the path to icon status.

Shock triumph

Weeks before Wimbledon, 17-year-old Sharapova reached the last eight for the first time at a Grand Slam with a strong run at the French Open, beaten by Paola Suarez in their quarter-final encounter.

The Russian then backed that up with the first grass-court title of her career at the Birmingham Classic – and went into SW19 as the 13th seed.

Despite her promising form, she was not considered a significant title contender heading into Wimbledon.

Serena Williams was the huge favourite for the title, with the world No 1 the two-time defending champion, while former winners Venus Williams and Lindsay Davenport were also in contention.

Sharapova progressed nicely through her first three matches, not dropping a set against Yulia Beygelzimer, Anne Keothavong, and Daniela Hantuchova to reach the second week.

She had been projected to face compatriot and second seed Anastasia Myskina in round four, but with the French Open champion knocked out in round three, the draw had opened up for her slightly.

And she took full advantage, beating Myskina’s conqueror, 31st seed Amy Frazier, also in straight sets to reach the last eight.

For the first time, the teenager found herself under pressure in the quarter-final, down a set to 11th seed and the much more experienced Ai Sugiyama.

But Sharapova rallied to claim a 5-7, 7-5, 6-1 victory, and then battled back to beat fifth seed Davenport 2-6, 7-6(5), 6-1 and reach the final – where she was up against Serena.

Few backed her against Serena, who was already a Career Grand Slam champion at this point, but Sharapova dropped just one game in a dominant opening set.

And, just as it looked the tide was turning against her, she came from 2-4 down in the second set to seal a 6-1, 6-4 victory, and shock the tennis world by lifting the Venus Rosewater Dish.

Only Lottie Dodd and Martina Hingis had claimed the title younger than Sharapova, and it was a victory that sent her to the top of the tennis world – and made her a sporting icon.

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Game-changing career

Sharapova did not rest on her laurels after that Wimbledon triumph, cementing her place as an all-time great over the next decade.

Triumphs at the US Open and Australian Open in 2006 and 2008 respectively were followed by Roland Garros titles in 2012 and 2014, also reaching a further five Grand Slam finals.

She became world No 1 for the first time in 2005, and would ultimately hold that ranking for 21 weeks across her career.

Only Serena, Venus, and Justine Henin have won more women’s Grand Slam titles than her this century – with Iga Swiatek now level on five such victories.

It was the ‘rivalry’ with Serena that came to define a significant chunk of her career.

Though it appears the two have a friendly relationship post-retirement, there is no denying tension was high when the pair were in the prime of their respective careers.

But this match-up was one of the biggest caveats of the Russian’s career.

After winning Wimbledon against her, Sharapova would beat Serena in the final of the WTA Finals that season – but then lost the next 19 matches between the two.

For some reason Serena became a nightmare encounter for her, Sharapova unable to find the freedom she channelled superbly in their most famous meeting.

It did not prevent her from forging a hugely successful career on the court, and certainly not off it either.

Sharapova was one of the most marketed athletes in sporting history, with a flood of endorsements – many coming after her first major triumph.

Motorola, Tag Heuer, Porsche, and Tifanny were among her most notable sponsors, and for ten straight years from 2006, she was the highest-paid female athlete in the world.

Her legacy

A slight cloud sat over Sharapova in the latter stages of her career, after her 15-month ban following a failed drugs test at the 2016 Australian Open.

But, when she announced her retirement in February 2020, her career was largely hailed, and her legacy still looms large in an era where very few have come close to matching her accomplishments.

Some players have won more big titles than Sharapova, or have spent more weeks at No 1 than her, but she is undoubtedly a great of the sport and one of the most influential players of modern times.

Her aggressive game style reinforced the dominance of power players that remains on the WTA, while she helped pave the way for blockbuster endorsements for modern female players – and female athletes in general.

And it all started with that Wimbledon win.

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