Maria Sharapova is a global superstar and icon both on and off the court. But her sparkling career was tarnished by a drugs ban which cost her credibility from the sport she loved.
She made herself a global star when she dispatched Serena Williams – grunts and all – to win Wimbledon aged 17 in 2004.
She then added the US Open title in 2006 and the Australian Open in 2008. After completing her career Grand Slam – the 10th woman to do so – in 2012 at Roland Garros, Sharapova regained the French Open two years later.
When Sharapova called a press conference in March 2016, the speculation was that chronic shoulder problems were forcing her to retire. Instead, she revealed she had failed a doping test for the cardiac drug Meldonium at the Australian Open in January having not realised it had been added to the banned list at the end of 2015.
It’s a long journey. It started from a very young age. It’s not over yet, you know. I’m not sitting here and saying I’m done, because I’m far from it. I have a lot more in me to achieve. I believe in my game. I think that’s one of the reasons that that’s why I’m sitting here with my fourth one and winning Roland Garros, is because I always believed I could be better, I could be a better player, whether it was on clay, whether it was on grass, whether it was on cement, anything.
Her career suffered a downward spiral. She was suspended for 15 months but, while authorities accepted she was not trying to cheat, the issue cast a cloud over her career.
Just a few days short of four years since that internet countdown, Sharapova has kept to her word by announcing her retirement through a glitzy version of notes in Vogue and Vanity Fair magazines rather than at a “downtown LA hotel with a fairly ugly carpet”.
Sharapova’s return to the sport in 2017 was met with resistance and, although she reached the semi-finals of her comeback tournament in Stuttgart, she struggled to return to past glories thereafter, peaking at a high of 21 in the rankings.
She missed six Grand Slams and was also plagued by thigh, wrist and more shoulder injuries, which ruined the final years of her glittering career.
Sharapova won just one more title – in Tianjin that year – while her best Grand Slam performance was a quarter-final spot at the 2018 French Open. There may have been no lower moment than her first-round retirement at Wimbledon against Pauline Parmentier in 2019 as she left the court in tears. It turned out to be her last match there.
Sharapova’s story captured imaginations…
Born in Siberia after her parents moved from their home in Belarus fearing the effects of the nearby Chernobyl disaster, Sharapova showed exceptional promise at tennis.
The family took advice from Martina Navratilova, and Sharapova and her father Yuri moved to Florida to further her training when the Russian was only six.
Neither could speak English and Sharapova did not see her mother until she was able to join them two years later.
The Russian, who first picked up a racket at the age of four, struggled with chronic shoulder problems and slumped to 373 in the rankings.
She was ranked world No 1 on five separate occasions for a total of 21 weeks. She first hit top spot aged 18 and got there for the last time after her first French Open success in 2012.
Sharapova also won 36 WTA Tour titles, including the WTA Finals in 2004, and claimed a silver medal at the London Olympics in 2012.
Her rivalry against Serena Williams was supposed to be one that matched Federer-Nadal as one for the ages, and there was certainly no love lost between them, but on court it was startlingly one-sided, with Williams winning 19 straight matches dating back to 2004. The last of which was a 6-1 6-1 hammering in last year’s US Open.
Writing in her autobiography, ‘Unstoppable: My Life So Far’, Sharapova said: “I think Serena hated me for being the skinny kid who beat her, against all odds, at Wimbledon.”
In recent years, Sharapova has married her tennis career with business interests, including the launch of her sweet and chocolate line Sugarpova making her one of the most marketable and highest-paid female athletes in the world for over a decade.
Despite being often described as cold and unfriendly by her rivals, tennis will miss a woman who often stood out from the crowd.
Tennis showed me the world – and it showed me what I was made of. 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.