Maria Sharapova struggled in recent years with injuries and inconsistent play on the tennis court and has not won a grand slam title since 2008 with her worldwide ranking plummeted to a low of No. 126 in 2009.
But this year Sharapova has rebounded with a vengeance, winning 80% 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.
Sharapova is unchallenged as the world’s highest paid woman in professional sports for the seventh straight year as she once again tops the annual list provided by Forbes magazine. Sharapova earned $25 million mostly from off-court endorsements over the last 12 months, double the amount of any other female athlete in the world.
Sharapova maintains an impressive endorsement portfolio that includes Nike, Head, Evian, Clear Shampoo, Sony Ericsson, Tiffany and Tag Heuer.
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% 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.
Ranked second in the highest-paid female athlete list 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.
Danica Patrick might not be having the best of seasons in the IZOD IndyCar Series, but it doesn’t seem to be hurting her in the pocketbook. Forbes.com reports that the IndyCar and sometime NASCAR racer is the world’s third-highest-paid female athlete with an estimated annual income at $12 million.
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 which would certainly boost Patrick’s income.
Tennis players dominate the list with seven of the ten spots, including China’s breakout tennis star Li Na, who made $8 million last year but was expected to soar up the rankings and pose the stiffest challenge for Sharapova for the top spot after her breakthrough win at the French Open.
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.
With her newfound celebrity, 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.
The top 10 women earners
1. Maria Sharapova $25 million (Russia, tennis)
2. Caroline Wozniacki $12.5 million (Denmark, tennis)
3. Danica Patrick $12 million (U.S., motor racing)
4. Venus Williams $11.5 million (U.S., tennis)
5. Kim Clijsters $11 million (Belgium, tennis)
6. Serena Williams $10.5 million (U.S., tennis)
7. Kim Yuna $10 million (figure skating, South Korea)
8. Li Na $8 million (China, tennis)
9. Ana Ivanovic $6 million (Serbia, tennis)
10. Paula Creamer $5.5 million (U.S., golf)
Forbes’ estimates are for the 12-months ending July 1, 2011, factoring in prize money, salaries, appearance fees, licensing income and endorsements in their totals. The ten highest paid women made $113 million over the past 12-months, up 1% from last year. By comparison the 10 highest-paid men earned a collective $449 million.