Maria Sharapova, a household name not just in the world of tennis but in the world of sport in general, announced her retirement from professional tennis at the age of 32 in an exclusive interview given to Vogue and Vanity Fair.
In a career spanning over 20 years , Sharapova won 36 WTA titles including 5 Grand Slam titles. By winning the 2012 French Open, she completed an elusive career Grand Slam (winning all 4 grand slams at least once) and became the first Russian and only the 10th woman in the history of the sport to do so.
Sharapova caught the eye of the tennis world when she defeated Serena Williams in the final of Wimbledon 2004 at the ripe young age of 17. A year later she became World No.1 as well.
Sharapova’s career was plagued with several injuries, the most painful of them was the injury in her right shoulder. It bothered her for most part of her career and despite 4 surgeries she couldn’t get rid of it. This shoulder injury proved to be an ultimate drag on her career.
Sharapova won’t be just remembered for her achievements on the court but for her achievements and controversies off the court as well. First of them is her undisputed 11 year long reign as the highest paid female athlete in the world. Even though Serena was way ahead of her in terms of big titles, Sharapova was the first choice of many brands owning to her flawless looks.
But her reign finally came to a halt in 2016 when she was suspended from professional tennis for 15 months. The ban she served was for testing positive in 2016 for meldonium– a heart disease drug which had been legal until January 1 that year. Sharapova was using this drug for the last 10 years but unfortunately wasn’t aware that it was banned in 2016. Initially banned for two years, Sharapova argued on appeal that it had been an administrative error and that the punishment was “unfairly harsh,” and the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) concluded that it would be wrong to call the player an “intentional doper”.
This ban proved to be a blot on her illustrious career and in some way led to her demise because she couldn’t play anywhere near her best post her comeback in April 2017. Her best result at a Slam was a QF appearance at the French Open 2018. The only title she won after her comeback was the Tianjin Open in 2017.
The realization that she couldn’t continue professional tennis came before her first round encounter against Serena at the US Open last year. Sharapova said, when 30 minutes before a match she needed to numb the pain in her shoulder where the tendons had become “frayed like a string.”
“Just stepping onto the court that day felt like a final victory, when of course it should have been merely the first step towards victory,” she wrote in announcing her retirement. “I share this not to garner pity, but to paint my new reality: My body had become a distraction.”
Sharapova was disliked by many players. Some labelled her as arrogant, some mocked her for her loud grunting on court. But it never bothered her. She was always unapologetic about it. She said she couldn’t change who she is just to fit in. She made it clear that she is here to play tennis and not to make locker room friendships. It seems that the reason for strong dislike for Sharapova among her colleagues was her unmatchable popularity and her strong connections with all the major brands.
Sharapova will be remembered for her grit and mental toughness that have always been overlooked because of the glamour but it helped the Russian to become a global mega star.
Sharapova will also be remembered for her achievements on the court and the remarkable story of how her parents, Yuri and Yelena, gambled everything they had on their only child.
With $700 in his pocket, Sharapova’s father left the Russian port of Sochi with his daughter for Florida after former world No.1 Martina Navratilova had recommended that the young Sharapova should train abroad. After coming to Florida, Sharapova never looked back and created a legacy for her that will be unmatched for years to come.