The Times: Maria Sharapova: Art and chic holidays are my big double fault
The tennis star insists she has no time for flashy labels but tells Katie Binns she can’t resist splashing out on life’s finer things.
The Russian tennis star Maria Sharapova has earned more than $285m (£215m) in prize money and sponsorship, according to Forbes magazine. A Wimbledon champion at 17 and the world No 1 at 18, she was the world’s best-paid female athlete for 11 years. In 2016 she received a 15-month suspension for taking a banned substance, yet her eight-year, $70m deal with Nike endured and all sponsors except the Swiss watchmaker Tag Heuer continue to work with her.
Sharapova’s start in life was eventful too. Her mother was pregnant with her at the time of the Chernobyl disaster in 1986. Living 80 miles away and worried about the toxic effects on their unborn daughter, her parents fled to Siberia.
Her talent was spotted at the age of six by the tennis great Martina Navratilova, who advised training in the US. When she moved to join a Florida academy, her father had just $700, spoke no English and took many low-paid jobs to make ends meet. The sacrifice paid off.
In 2012, wanting to plan a post-tennis career, she launched her candy company, Sugarpova, with $500,000.
Last year she founded the Maria Sharapova Women’s Entrepreneur Program, a business mentorship for female entrepreneurs. The 31-year-old has partnered with the fashion brand Veronica Beard, which will donate proceeds from online sales throughout this month to Sharapova’s program.
She splits her time between homes in Florida and Los Angeles and is dating Alexander Gilkes, an Old Etonian entrepreneur based in New York.
How much money do you have in your wallet?
$25. I rarely carry a lot of cash.
What credit cards do you use?
I use American Express for business and my UBS card for personal. Some of my team use my air miles.
Are you a saver or a spender?
NetJets — where you have part ownership of a private business jet — are usually my biggest spending. It’s important to treat my team well so they can do their best work. So we stay in great places and fly NetJets a lot in the US.
Getting carried away with spending has never been a problem for me. In Russian culture, it is very popular to show off labels; that was always a large turn-off for me. After I won Wimbledon, I decided I was going to get my hands on one of those white Louis Vuitton bags with coloured LVs all over; they were a big thing at the time. I wore it once — to the airport. It really wasn’t me. I am very much a minimalist.
Have you ever been really hard up?
I didn’t grow up having a lot of money. I didn’t have many toys or art classes or go to the zoo as often as others, but it didn’t take away from my youth. In my eyes I had a very fulfilling life.
Do you own a property?
I have one in Florida that I bought many years ago. I think it was over $2.5m. I also have a place in Los Angeles that I built a few years ago — God knows how much I spent on that. I worked on the design for three years. It really was a labour of love.
What was your first job?
My first ever paycheck was $50,000 from Nike. I was 11.
What has been your most lucrative work?
Tennis. If you are winning grand slams [she has also won the French Open twice and the Australian and US Opens], you are making really great money. The training is the work to [get] other opportunities and endorsements.
Do you invest in shares?
I invest in sunscreen brand Supergoop. I also invest in the UFC [Ultimate Fighting Championship], which was a financial decision; I wouldn’t say I’m a fan.
What is better for retirement – property or pension?
I do have a retirement plan but I love property; it feels like a personal investment.
When did you first feel wealthy?
When I was in Florida, I used to travel to California to see a tennis coach. We always stayed in an odd, not-very-clean hotel. After winning Wimbledon, my manager moved me into a hotel close to the beach. I could hear the waves in my room. I was 17 and thought: “Wow, I have made it.”
What has been your best investment?
My best investment has been becoming a better player with the help of my team.
And the worst?
I invested in a monetising social media app that is now becoming a dating app. I don’t see that money coming back.
What is your money weakness?
I do spend on art but I haven’t bought anything at those crazy auction prices. The first piece I bought, by Californian artist Chris Gwaltney, was $50,000.
I also spend a lot on travel and staying in beautiful places. I love the Aman Group — its hotels are very luxurious and expensive but the Amangiri resort in Utah [where suites cost $5,000 a night] is beautiful. I stayed at the Beldi Country Club in Morocco recently.
What do you worry about?
My family. Making sure they have a good life is the most important thing to me.
What is your financial priority?
Sugarpova’s product growth and the transition to all-natural flavours and organic sugars.
How does tennis compare with being in business?
Tennis is very expensive; you have to invest with no guarantee of any return. It resonates with business as well.
I am a member of the National Association of Women Business Owners. Since last July we have been mentoring seven women from seven different businesses, one in construction, one in home accessories, one in peanut butter — all very different sectors. I’ve come to learn that only 2% of companies with a full female founding team get funded.
The sad reality in 2019 is that it’s not easy to be a female entrepreneur, and I wanted to help remove some of these barriers for women looking to make their mark in business.
What is the most important lesson you have learnt about money?
It takes a lot of hard work — and it’s a lot easier to spend it than earn it.