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Maria Sharapova Tops List Of The World's Highest-Paid Female Athletes

Forbes

Women earn only 77 cents for every dollar earned by men in the U.S., according to data from the Census Bureau. The pay gap is even worse in the world of sports. The maximum salary in the WNBA is $107,000. Kobe Bryant will earn $30.5 million from the Los Angeles Lakers next season.

Inbee Park won $585,000 for her 2013 U.S. Open golf title. The men’s winner, Justin Rose, pocketed $1.4 million for his victory. Park is having a golf season for the ages and could pocket $5 million from prize money and endorsements in 2013. Meanwhile, Tiger Woods reigns as the world’s highest-paid athlete with earnings of $78 million.

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The income difference derives from the gap in revenues generated by the stars of these sports, but there is one major sport where men and women compete on equal footing: tennis. A pay disparity existed in tennis for decades as women received smaller payouts at the French Open and Wimbledon, but Venus Williams led a campaign for equal pay and the two majors changed their policies in 2007. The highest-paid tennis players are now equally split between men and women.

So when it comes to the world’s 10 highest-paid female athletes, tennis players dominant the list, grabbing seven spots. Maria Sharapova is on top for the ninth straight year with $29 million in earnings from prize money, endorsements and appearance fees between June 2012 and June 2013. The Russian-born Sharapova leads a globe-spanning list with eight different nationalities represented in the top 10.

Sharapova’s earnings power skyrocketed in 2004 when she won Wimbledon as a 17-year-old. Companies flocked to the 6-foot-2-inch blond beauty with multimillion dollar endorsement deals. Today she counts Nike, Head, Samsung Electronics, Tag Heuer and Evian as sponsors. She added a three-year deal with Porsche in April. Her French Open win in 2012, which gave her a career Grand Slam, triggered lucrative bonuses with sponsors.

Sharapova is looking beyond tennis with her latest venture: She launched a candy business, Sugarpova, in 2012 with her own money. The gummy candies are now available in 15 countries and the company expects to sell 1.5 million bags of candy in the first 12 months at $5 to $6 a bag. Sharapova is plowing any profits back into the company and hopes to expand into areas like fashion, accessories and make-up.

In Pictures: The Highest-Paid Female Athletes

Serena Williams ranks second with earnings of $20.5 million, which includes $8.5 million in prize money and $12 million from sponsors Nike, Wilson, Gatorade and OPI. Williams has cut back her traditional endorsement commitments in recent years in favor of equity deals with HSN, Sleep Sheets, Mission and the Miami Dolphins. She continues to have a huge platform to speak from as the top female player in tennis. Williams nabbed the No. 1 ranking in the world in February for the sixth time in her decorated career. At 31 years old, she became the oldest woman to ever hold the top spot. Williams has won nine tournaments as well as an Olympic gold medal over the past year, and her $47 million in career prize money is the most of any female athlete.

China’s Li Na makes for a clean sweep of the top three from the world of tennis. She earned an estimated $18.2 million, including $3.2 million in prize money. Like Sharapova, Li catapulted onto the world stage with a Grand Slam win and into the arms of sponsors. She became the first Asian-born player to win a singles Grand Slam event at the 2011 French Open, which quickly led to seven multimillion-dollar endorsement deals after the historic win, including Samsung and Mercedes-Benz.

Victoria Azarenka of Belarus ranks No. 4 at $15.7 million. Her $7.9 million prize money haul in 2012 was a single year record for a female athlete in any sport (we credit her with $6.7 million between June 2012 and June 2013). She won her second straight Australian Open in January. Endorsement partners include Nike, Wilson, American Express, Six Star Pro Nutrition, InstaForex and Citizen Watch. Red Bull inked her to a deal in January, which made her the first tennis player sponsor for the beverage giant.

Nascar’s Danica Patrick is the first athlete outside of tennis on our list, clocking in at No. 5 with earnings of $15 million. Patrick is racing full-time in the Sprint Cup series for the first time in 2013. She attracted widespread attention for winning the pole position at the Daytona 500 and finishing eighth in the race, which was the highest finish ever at Daytona for a female driver.

Patrick makes the bulk of her income off the track through 15 personal sponsors including Chevrolet, Coca-Cola, Nationwide Insurance and Tissot. Go Daddy is the primary sponsor of her Sprint Cup car and she has appeared in a celebrity record 12 Super Bowl commercials for the domain registrar over the past seven years.

South Korean figure skating champion Kim Yuna ranks No. 6 with estimated earnings of $14 million. Kim took a year off from competing before returning in December, and she captured her second World Championship in February. Kim is the headline act in the All That Skate figure skating show and she is a staple on TV in South Korea thanks to commercials for her dozen sponsors including Samsung, Korean Air and KB Financial. Kim is expected to be one of the leading stars at the 2014 Winter Olympics.

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