MARIA SHARAPOVA was just 7-years-old when her tennis career began in earnest.

In 1994, the Russian national left home and homeland with her father to embark on an intensive all-consuming training regime at a tennis academy in Florida.

She left much behind, not least of which her mother, who for visa reasons couldn't join her daughter in the US for two years.

Sporting zealotry has often come under fire on the basis it's unhealthy when the ones fast-tracked are youngsters.

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Equally, you could argue the traumatic deracinating of a young girl has been well worth it. After all, she boasts five tennis Grand Slams and $285 million in endorsements.
But there are trade-offs in a dogmatic pursuit of excellence.

This week, the powerful baseliner admitted she had failed a drugs test. And, like all sporting dopers before her, the media darling used the ignorance defence.

Sponsors including Nike, Tag Heuer and Porsche have severed all ties. Regardless of world rankings, her net worth was decimated overnight.

Many would also argue her young, raw initiation into sport mirrored the Eastern Europe stereotype, where post-Cold War athletes embarked on an uncompromising drive to dominate.

Fictional Russian boxer Ivan Drago in the film Rocky IV was popular culture's hyperbolic-intramuscular-steroid-injecting embodiment of this western perception.

However, Sharapova's history would indicate her motivation was more about nurture than nationalism. Her precocious yet premature introduction to professional sport obviously instilled many attributes - the least desirable of which was ostensibly the will to win at any cost.