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By Richard Pagliaro | Wednesday, February 26, 2020

 
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Five-time Grand Slam champion Maria Sharapova announces her retirement at age 32 citing chronic injuries. The former world No. 1 leaves a complicated legacy.

Photo credit: Mark Peterson/Corleve

Show-stopping champion Maria Sharapova has closed the curtain on her tennis career.

Sharapova, who shocked the tennis world dethroning defending champion Serena Williams to win the 2004 Wimbledon title at age 17, is through at 32.

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The 32-year-old Russian announced her official retirement from pro tennis today due to chronic injuries, concluding a career that saw her capture five Grand Slam crowns, complete the career Grand Slam, rise to world No. 1 and enjoy a record run as the world's highest-paid female athlete for 11 years, according to Forbes.

Sharapova announced her retirement on social media and detailed her feelings in an essay she wrote for Vanity Fair.

"How do you leave behind the only life you’ve ever known?" Sharapova wrote. "How do you walk away from the courts you’ve trained on since you were a little girl, the game that you love—one which brought you untold tears and unspeakable joys—a sport where you found a family, along with fans who rallied behind you for more than 28 years?

"I’m new to this, so please forgive me. Tennis—I’m saying goodbye."

A fierce competitive force, Sharapova based her game on a crackling two-handed backhand, sniper return and burning, visceral determination. A shrieking Sharapova punctuated her flat blasts with screams of desire and imposed her methodial pace of play on opponents. 

At her best, Sharapova was one of the toughest, loudest, fiercest, boldest champions of her era who scored Grand Slam final victories over former No. 1 players Serena Williams, Justine Henin, Ana Ivanovic and Simona Halep.

Sharapova showed a spirited love of the battle and established a well-earned reputation as a charismatic, combative and controversial champion. 

World No. 1 and fellow Head endorser Novak Djokovic developed a friendship with Sharapova and praised her fighting spirit

"She’s a great fighter and as dedicated as someone could really be in our sport," Djokovic said of Sharapova today in Dubai. "Her willpower and willingness to kind of overcome all the obstacles she had in the last five, six years with injuries and surgeries and trying to fight back and come back and played on her desired level, it’s truly inspirational to see what a mind of a champion she has.

"I’m sorry it had to end with an injury, but at the same time she had a fantastic career. She can be proud of herself."

Currently ranked No. 373, Sharapova lost her last four matches as she struggled with a chronic shoulder injury. Her surgically-repaired right shoulder limited Sharapova to 15 matches in 2019. She posted an 8-7 record pulling the plug on her season after Serena Williams administered a 6-1, 6-1 thrashing at the US Open.



"Tennis showed me the world—and it showed me what I was made of," Sharapova wrote in an Instagram post announcing her farewell. "It’s how I tested myself and how I measured my growth. And so in whatever I might choose for my next chapter, my next mountain, I’ll still be pushing. I’ll still be climbing. I’ll still be growing.

"Tennis—I’m saying goodbye."

The Siberian-born Sharapova represented Russia, split her time between homes in Florida and California and developed a massive global fan base.

Sharapova, who split with coach Thomas Hogstedt last year, had spent recent months training with respected coach Riccardo Piatti, who was trying to streamline her service motion to alleviate stress on her shoulder, but conceded the pain was always present.

"I get asked about my shoulder, I think, in every interview that I do and the bottom line is I have a damaged shoulder that I've had and operated on, so it's not something that I'm going to wake up and be, like, I feel perfect," Sharapova said before last month's Australian Open. "But a lot of it is managing the pain and doing all the right things and taking care of the rest of the body so that it helps the shoulder."



The announcement closes the playing chapter on one of the most popular—and polarizing—players in WTA history.

In 2014, Sharapova became first tennis player, male or female, to pass 15 million fans on Facebook.

The Olympic silver medalist captured 36 singles titles, nearly $39 million in prize money, served as Russian flag bearer at the Olympic Games and became a tennis fashion icon as well as an entrepreneur starting her own candy company, Sugarpova. Sharapova exerted her marketing muscle as a face for several blue-chip sponsors, including Porsche, Nike and Head racking up $325 million in combined career earnings from prize money, endorsements and appearances. That makes Sharapova the second-highest female athlete earner of all-time behind Serena Williams, who has earned an estimated $350 million.

The former world No. 1 leaves a complicated legacy.

Though Sharapova was one of the fiercest competitors of her era, she also tested positive for the banned substance meldonium following her 2016 Australian Open quarterfinal loss to Serena Williams. 



The five-time Grand Slam champion was initially suspended for two years. Sharapova appealed her two-year ban to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, earning a reduced 15-month sentence.

After that partial victory, Sharapova told PBS' Charlie Rose the CAS decision was a “repudiation” of the ITF and charged “the ITF wanted to ban me for four years.”

“I went through the ITF hearing in front of an arbitration that was chosen by the ITF,” Sharapova told Charlie Rose. “So I’m in a hearing knowing the people I’m speaking to…are chosen by the people I’m actually in a fight with. They call that neutral? That’s not neutral.”

The ITF issued a stern rebuke of Sharapova’s statements rejecting nearly every claim she made in the interview.

In a parting shot to Sharapova, the ITF rejected her claim it could have done a better job warning her that meldonium was added to the banned list.

The ITF said since Sharapova failed to declare her use of meldonium on any doping control form or to any physios or medical staff and since the World Anti-Doping Agency’s program is anonymous, it had no way of knowing she was using the banned drug until she tested positive.



Sharapova said she began taking the drug shortly after defeating Williams in the 2004 Wimbledon final to capture her first career Grand Slam championship and took it for a decade.

"I was getting colds and flu and it started to affect my body," Sharapova told The Times. "I was taken to a doctor in Moscow. He gave me about 10 supplements to take, one of which was Mildronate."

Reflecting on her positive test, Sharapova acknowledged "ultimately the fault was mine" in an interview with The Times.

"Why didn't someone come up to me and have a private conversation, just an official to an athlete, which would have taken care of the confidentiality problem they talked about later,” Sharapova told The Times. “Ultimately the fault was mine. But I had been getting clearance on everything I was taking for seven years and I became complacent."

Though she publicly feuded with the ITF and some rivals,who questioned if her once-vaunted three-set record was the result of tenacity and stamina or chemically-enhanced endurance, Sharapova was one of the game's biggest box office draws, who sold tickets, spiked TV ratings and engaged fan debate when she played.

Ruthlessness was a sharp Sharapova weapon: she fired Hall of Famer Jimmy Connors as coach after one match, often erupted in spirited screams to dispirit opponents and wasn't shy about drilling passing shots into the body as she famously did on a smash vs. Serena Williams in an Australian Open match prompting this reaction.

Though she looked and dressed like a fashion model, and was a page-turning presence modeling for publications ranging from Vogue to Vanity Fair to Sports Illustrated's swimsuit issue, Sharapova exuded passion for the sport and played with an assasin's instinct for the kill shot.

Tennis matches were grudge matches when Sharapova was firing in full form. Adding to her mystique, Sharapova shunned relationships with her WTA peers and some fellow players blasted her in the wake of her doping fail.

"She's a totally unlikable person,” Dominika Cibulkova famously said of Sharapova. “Arrogant, conceited and cold. When I sit beside her in the locker room, she won't even say hello."

The statuesque Sharapova, who dated ATP player Grigor Dimitrov for a couple years, could make matches feel real and raw with her fast, flat strikes, sometimes over-the-top shrieking (even when hitting slices) and hard-core competitiveness.

For the resilient Russian, pro tennis was about settling personal scores.



In her memoir Unstoppable: My Life So Far, Sharapova revealed revenge—not records—is what really fuels her raging intensity on court.

“The idea of legacy and greatness—is that enough? Will that do it? Probably not," Sharapova wrote. "That’s just abstract bullshit, for writers and fans. For me, the best motivation has always been small rather than big, personal rather than universal.

"The record book? Posterity? Fuck that. Did you hear what that girl said about me at the press conference? That’s what gets me going. Make them eat their words.”

Sharapova and her father, Yuri, famously arrived in the United States with a total of $700.

Together, daughter and father realized a tennis dream that took Sharapova to world No. 1 five different times and made her an inspirational and aspirational champion—and future Hall of Famer.

 

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