By Kurt Badenhausen
Maria Sharapova struggled in recent years with injuries and inconsistent play on the tennis court. Her worldwide ranking plummeted to a low of No. 126 in 2009 and she was rarely a factor in Grand Slam events. But this year Sharapova has rebounded and won 80 percent of her matches. She is now ranked No. 5 in the world and reached the Wimbledon finals in July, her first Grand Slam final in more than three years.
While Sharapova has bounced back on the court, off the court she never left. Sharapova is the world's highest-paid female athlete for the seventh straight year and this year it is not even close. Sharapova earned $25 million over the last 12 months, double the amount of any other female athlete in the world.
|Slideshow: Ten highest-paid female athletes|
Sharapova maintains an impressive endorsement portfolio that includes Nike, Head, Evian, Clear Shampoo, Sony Ericsson, Tiffany and Tag Heuer. Sharapova has 5.2 million Facebook fans and her partners are constantly doing things on her Facebook page to reach them. Cole-Haan (a Nike subsidiary) ran a promotion for her 24th birthday where her fans got 24 percent off that day.
Sharapova extended her Nike agreement in 2010 for eight years that could net her as much as $70 million. Sales of her Nike line of tennis apparel were up 26 percent in 2010 and she now has five other Tour pros wearing the collection. Her ballet flat was the top selling shoe in 2010 at Cole Haan. She receives royalties on both her Nike and Cole Haan lines.
Our earnings estimates are for the 12 months ending July 1, 2011. We factor in prize money, salaries, appearance fees, licensing income and endorsements in our totals. Tennis players dominate the list with seven of the ten spots. The ten highest-paid women made $113 million over the past 12 months, up 1 percent from last year. By comparison the 10 highest-paid men earned a collective $449 million.
The second highest-paid female athlete over the past year is the world's No. 1 ranked tennis player, Caroline Wozniacki at $12.5 million. She banked $6 million in prize money and another $6.5 million from sponsors and appearances. Companies are lining up behind the 21-year-old Dane hoping to catch tennis' next big star. She added deals this year with Yonex, Compeed and Oriflame, but her biggest partner is Adidas, which paid out lucrative bonuses in 2010 thanks to her No. 1 year-end ranking.
Racing's Danica Patrick ranked No. 3 at $12 million. Patrick continues to split her time between IndyCar and NASCAR's Nationwide Series. Her fourth place finish in the Sam’s Town 300 in March was the highest finish ever by a woman in a Nascar race. Rumors are swirling that Patrick will race full-time in Nascar in 2011. A permanent move to Nascar would certainly boost Patrick's income.
In the future Sharapova's stiffest competition as the top-paid female athlete should come from another breakout tennis star, Li Na. Li turned pro 12 years ago, but the 29-year-old's big moment came at this year's French Open where she became the first Chinese player to win a singles Grand Slam event. Her win was seen by 116 million people in China, according to the WTA Tour.
Li is set to see her earnings soar as she has been busy signing new seven-figure deals with companies like Mercedes-Benz maker Daimler and others which joined Nike, Haagen-Dazs and Rolex in her endorsement portfolio. Before her French Open title in June, she was making $2.5 million annually off the court, but her newfound celebrity could see that figure jump by more than $10 million. We estimate Li earned $8 million (ranked eighth) in the 12 months through June, which is before most of her new deals kicked in.
Patrick continues to split her time between IndyCar and NASCAR's Nationwide Series. Her fourth-place finish in the Sam's Town 300 in March was the highest finish ever by a woman in a NASCAR race. Rumors are swirling that Patrick will race full-time in NASCAR in 2012.