Olympic stars top list of 10 highest-paid female athletes

Radhika Sivadi

3 min read ·


Maria Sharapova tore her rotator cuff in 2008 and the subsequent surgery meant 10 months off the tennis circuit. She struggled with her game and her confidence upon her return, as her ranking dropped to No. 126 in the world after the layoff. It was her lowest ranking since she joined the WTA Tour full-time as a 16-year-old in 2003.

Sharapova has come roaring back with five tournament wins over the past 15 months, including a French Open title in June. The victory in Paris completed a career Grand Slam—the sixth women to accomplish the feat in the Open era.

Even throughout her struggles, one thing Sharapova always did well was make money. This year is no different. She earned $27.1 million over the last 12-months and is the highest-paid female athlete in the world for an eighth straight year.

Sharapova made $5.1 million in prize money between July 2011 and July 2012, and another $22 million from sponsors, exhibitions and appearance fees. Her endorsement partners include: Evian, Head, Samsung and Tag Heuer, but her biggest paycheck comes courtesy of Nike. She re-signed with the apparel giant in 2010 in an eight-year deal that could top $70 million including royalties. Sales for her Maria Sharapova Collection, which include shoes and accessories for Nike subsidiary Cole Haan, doubled in 2011. Her ballet flat is the best selling female shoe for Cole Haan.

In Pictures: The Highest-Paid Female Athletes

Her latest venture is her own line of candy called Sugarpova in partnership with Jeff Rubin, who helped create Dylan’s Candy in 2001. The tennis themed treats are expected to be out in time for the U.S. Open in August.

Sharapova is appearing in her first Olympics in London, and she was selected as the first woman to ever carry the Russian flag in an Olympic opening ceremony. She leads a group of seven tennis players among the 10 highest-paid female athletes. They are all competing for gold in the London Olympics in the tennis tournament at the All-England Club.

Representing China in the Olympics is Li Na, who ranks No. 2 among the top-paid with earnings of $18.4 million between July 2011 and July 2012. Li lost in the first round of the Olympic singles tournament, but is still alive for a doubles medal.

Li made two Grand Slam finals in 2011, including a French Open title, which was the first Grand Slam singles crown by an Asian-born tennis player. The win was witnessed by 116 million Chinese TV viewers and catapulted Li’s global sponsorship profile. She signed seven three-year, multimillion dollar endorsement deals with Mercedes-Benz, Samsung Electronics and several Chinese firms. Her status is evident in her Nike deal, as she is the only one of its tennis players allowed to wear non-Nike logos on her tennis apparel.

Serena Williams ranks No. 3 after making $16.3 million, including $5.3 million in prize money. She is gunning for her third Olympic gold to add to the two gold medals in doubles she earned with her sister Venus. Serena Williams has won $38 million in career prize money, which is tops among women and fourth among all tennis players, including men.

No. 4 on the list is Denmark’s Caroline Wozniacki, who earned $13.7 million since July 2011 from prize money, endorsements and appearances. Wozniacki is a staple in the press thanks to her relationship with golfer Rory McIlroy. Her sponsors include: Adidas, Yonex, Proactiv, Rolex and Sony Ericsson. Wozniacki is releasing her own line of underwear in September. The announcement in June caused a buzz on the internet when photos appeared of Wozniacki posing in the new collection.

Racing’s Danica Patrick is No. 5 with earnings of $13 million during the past year. Patrick is racing full-time in Nascar in 2012 for the first time, which boosted her income, after splitting her time between Nascar and IndyCar the previous two years. She currently sits tenth in the Nationwide driver standings, but her best finish is 30th in three Sprint Cup races. Yet, sponsors continue to gravitate to Patrick, who was Yahoo's most searched-for athlete, male or female, in 2011. She inked personal endorsement deals for Coke Zero and Sega in recent months.

Another Olympian, Kim Yuna, clocks in at No. 7 with earnings of $9 million. Kim won a gold medal in figure skating at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. She sat out the 2011-12 skate season, but plans to return for the 2012-13 season with the goal of skating in the 2014 Olympics in Sochi. Kim has maintained her income as the headliner in the All That Skate figure skating show as well as a bevy of endorsement deals in her native South Korea. She played a key role in attracting the 2018 Winter Olympics to Pyeongchang, South Korea.

The List:

#1 Maria Sharapova – $27.1 million

#2 Li Na – $18.4 million

#3 Serena Williams – $16.3 million

#4 Caroline Wizniacki – $13.7 million

#5 Danica Patrick – $13 million

Click here to see more of The World's Highest-Paid Female Athletes

Radhika Sivadi