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The 9 Highest Paid Female Athletes of 2012

by: Esteban On  Saturday, September 15, 2012

highest paid female athletes 2012 top earning

We just wrapped up an Olympics that some people have called “the Women’s Games” because there were more female athletes with considerably higher profiles than ever before. So obviously, with this increase in notoriety, female athletes are making tons of money these days, right?

Well, that depends. Compared to you or me, sure, they’re making tons of money. But compared to their male counterparts? Not so much. The ladies at the top of the list you’re about to read do pretty well for themselves. But the ones at the bottom still “only” make about as much as the average NBA player does in a season.

Of course, that kind of salary isn’t going to leave them struggling to pay the mortgage, and I’m not saying we should feel sorry for them. It’s just that the extent of the disparity is surprising given the attention that female athletes get these days.

Anyway, read on to find out who the 9 highest-paid female athletes are and how they made their bucks. Several of these women are mainstays on these rankings, but there are a few new faces. So let’s get to it.

9. Agnieszka Radwanska (Tennis)

9 Agnieszka Radwanska

Radwanska has 10 WTA titles under her belt, but has yet to capture a Grand Slam title. However, she did become the first Polish player to appear in a Grand Slam final in the open era when she made the final of Wimbledon this year. She lost to another woman on this list, but the achievement was a big enough deal in Poland that they named her the flag-bearer for the Olympic opening ceremonies in London.

And it’s not like to have to win a tournament to get paid. Everyone gets a slice; the winners just get bigger ones. So Radwanska still made $4.9 million in prize money this year. Together with earnings from deals with Lotto, Babolat, and Lexus, that brings her total income up to $6.9 million.

8. Ana Ivanovic (Tennis)

8 Ana Ivanovic

Ana Ivanovic is still raking in the though thanks to her relatively short spell as the top-ranked player in the world back in 2008. Also: thanks her being really, really hot.

Actually, she’s done pretty well on the court in the last year, getting back up to No. 12 in the world after falling down to No. 64 in 2010. So some of her earnings over the last year were from this success, and this is reflected in the fact that she’s moved up from #9 to #8. However, most of her earnings—$7.2 million—came from a very lucrative endorsement deal with Adidas.

7. Kim Yuna (Figure Skating)

7 Kim Yuna

In 2010, Yuna became the first South Korean to win a medal in figure skating at the Winter Olympics when she took gold in singles. She was already a big star in South Korea, but that gold medal made her a superstar. Thus, even though she sat out the entire 2011-12 skating season, she’s still #7 on this list (like she was last year), with earnings of $9 million over the last 12 months.

6. Victoria Azarenka (Tennis)


After winning the 2012 Australian Open in January, this 22-year-old Belarusian became the No. 1 player women’s tennis player in the world. She’s maintained her #1 ranking since then thanks to a semifinal appearance at Wimbledon and a bronze medal win at the Olympics. And since she’s basically been the hottest player on the tour over the last 12 months, she’s also won more prize money than anyone else—$6.7 million. Add to that a new endorsement deal with Nike, and that bumps Victoria’s earnings up to $9.7 million over the last year.

5. Danica Patrick (NASCAR)

5 Danica Patrick

Ah yes, good old Danica Patrick. Despite the fact that she keeps not winning on the racetrack, the woman keeps raking in the dough year after year. I defender her for a while, too, since it just seemed like a matter of time before she finally had a breakthrough and earned a few wins. But since she made the move to NASCAR full-time, she’s only gotten worse. Sure, she’s currently 11th in the Nationwide standings, but in her 3 Sprint Cup Races her best finish is 30th.

None of that matters to sponsors, however. All that matters to them is that she’s hot and she’s one of the only women in this male dominated sport. Thus, over the past 12 months Danica has earned a cool $13 million thanks to deals with Coke Zero and Sega. (Yes, Sega.) However, having only earned an extra million this year over last year, she fell in the rankings from #3 to #5. Bummer.

4. Caroline Wozniacki (Tennis)


This Polish-born Danish tennis star spent 67 weeks at No. 1 in 2010 and 2011, despite not winning a Grand Slam title. However, she currently sits at No. 8 in the world, and at 22 years of age, it seems she may have peaked—as crazy as that sounds. That doesn’t mean she won’t still win a major tournament; it just means she may not be the most dominant player on tour anymore.

However, Wozniacki’s time on top, combined with her impressive looks and relationship with the No. 1 golfer in the world—Rory McIlroy—means Wozniacki is still a magnet for media attention. And that, in turn, makes her a magnet for advertising dollars. Thus, thanks to sponsors like Adidas, Rolex, Yonex, and Sony Ericsson, she managed to earn $13.7 million in the last 12 months.

Interestingly, though she earned more this year than she did last year, she fell from #2 to #4.

3. Serena Williams (Tennis)

3 Serena Williams

As Williams has gotten older she’s had to deal with a number of injuries and health issues. However, when healthy, she is still in a league of her own. After overcoming an injury at the end of 2010 and start of 2011, she made it to the finals of the U.S. Open last year. In 2012, after a road bump at the French, Serena has come on strong, winning Wimbledon and the gold medal at the Olympics, rising back to up No. 4 in the world and collecting $5.3 million in prize money.

Of course, the prize money hasn’t been Serena’s main source of income for a long time. Her deals with companies like Nike have always paid her more than she could win, even in her best years. Thus, over the last twelve months, Serena has made $16.3 million. Still, when you consider that last year she “only” made $10.5 million and ranked just #6 among top-earning female athletes, it’s obvious that winning a lot doesn’t hurt.

2. Li Na (Tennis)

2 Li Na

Li Na is the rare “late bloomer” from the world of women’s tennis, reaching her first Grand Slam final (Australian Open) at the age of 28 and winning her first Grand Slam in 2011 (French Open) at the age of 29. However, her status as the first and only Asian-born tennis player to win a Grand Slam singles event makes her kind of a big deal back in China, where 116 million people watched her win that French Open title. So even if she has slipped from No. 4 to No. 8 in the rankings, and even if her 2012 season has been nothing to write home about, she is still making a ton of money in endorsements. In 2011 she signed seven 3-year endorsement deals, including deals with Samsung, Mercedes-Benz, and Nike. In fact, Li is so big in Asia that Nike actually makes an exception for her that it won’t make for anyone else: they allow her to wear non-Nike logos when she plays.

So her income over the last 12 months? How about a whopping $18.4 million. That’s a $10 million increase over last year, bumping her from #8 to #2 on the list.

1. Maria Sharapova

1 Maria Sharapova olympics

Surely you knew Maria Sharapova would take the top spot. After all, she’s been the top-earning female athlete in the world for 8 straight years.

This year she did even better than last year, thanks to a full recovery from a nasty rotator cuff injury and a resurgence on the court. In June she won the French Open to complete the career Grand Slam, and she currently sits at No. 2 in the world after also taking home silver at the Olympics. This success has netted Maria $5.1 million in winnings this year, which has raised her income from a measly $25 million in 2011 to a more impressive $27.1 million in 2012.

That makes her the only female athlete in the world to earn more than the Angels’ Vernon Wells.