Thursday August 4th, 2011

Maria Sharapova tops Forbes' list of the highest paid female athletes. (Cynthia Lum/Icon SMI)

For the seventh straight year, Maria Sharapova was the world's highest paid female athlete. Since July 1, 2010, she banked a staggering $25 million in tournament prize money, salaries, appearance fees, licensing income and endorsements, according to Forbes.

While the 24-year-old’s play has drastically improved since a near three-year slump spawned by shoulder surgery in late 2008, the vast majority of her earnings comes from endorsements.

Sharapova’s Nike deal alone could be worth as much as $70 million over the next seven years, and that’s just one endorsement from a deep portfolio of sponsors that includes Head, Clear Shampoo, Cole Haan, Sony Ericsson, Tiffany & Co., and TAG Heuer.

But the better performance on the courts certainly doesn’t hurt the cash flow. In the 2011 season (through July 1) , Sharapova has gone 32-8, including a title in Rome, to rack up a total of $2,286,125 in prize money. Add to that her $355,307 prize money from the latter half of 2010 (July 1 to year’s end), and just over $2.6 million comes directly from the improved results. (By comparison, Sharapova earned only $949,888 in prize money during the same time period of 2009-10.)

While Sharapova draws most of her money from endorsements, No. 2 on the list, Caroline Wozniacki, banked nearly half her $12.5 million total earnings from prize money.  She earned $6 million in prize money and $6.5 million from appearance fees and sponsors, the biggest of which being Adidas. The No. 1-ranked Dane is notorious for playing a jam-packed schedule, capitalizing on the extra ranking points and the chance to add to her net income.

But expect that earnings ratio to shift more in the endorsement direction over the next year, as Wozniacki has the game, looks, ranking and appealing personality to start attracting more lucrative endorsements. Plus, if and when she finally wins a major, sponsors will undoubtedly come knocking.

In all, seven of the top 10 highest paid female athletes are tennis players. Sharapova, Wozniacki and race car driver Danica Patrick ($12 million) round out the top three, followed by Venus Williams ($11.5 million), Kim Clijsters ($11 million), Serena Williams ($10.5 million), South Korean ice dancer figure skater Kim Yu-na ($10 million), Li Na ($8 million), Ana Ivanovic ($6 million) and LPGA star Paula Creamer ($5.5 million).

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