Maria Sharapova, five-time Major champion, announces retirement from tennis

“In giving my life to tennis, tennis gave me a life. I’ll miss it every day”

Marianne Bevis
By Marianne Bevis
Maria Sharapova
Maria Sharapova (Photo: Marianne Bevis)

One of the most recognisable faces on the tennis stage, Maria Sharapova, has announced her retirement from tennis with immediate effect.

In an unusual move, she broke the news via a personal essay in Vogue and Vanity Fair, beginning, “Tennis—I’m saying goodbye.”

The 32-year-old Russian’s 36 titles and an additional 23 finals spanned almost 15 years, beginning at the age of 16 with the Japan Open in 2003 and ending at the end of 2017 at the Tianjin Open.

The precociously talented teenager went on to take tennis by storm in 2004 by beating Serena Williams to claim the Wimbledon title, and then beating her again to win the WTA finals. While still a teenager, she added the US Open title in 2006, and 18 months later, it was the Australian Open.

Already she had risen to No1 for a week in 2005—age 18—and added weeks intermittently in the company of players such as Lindsay Davenport, Kim Clijsters, and Justine Henin.

But it would not be until 2012 that she killed her ‘clay’ demons to win the fourth Major at Roland Garros. Sharapova made little secret of the problems she had in transitioning to the sliding conditions of clay, famously describing her tennis on the red stuff as resembling “a cow on ice” during her first semi-final run to the French Open semis in 2007.

But having mastered the surface, she would reach the finals again in 2013 and win her fifth Major at Roland Garros in 2014. What is more, the Italian Open in Rome would become one of her most successful big Premier events: She won it three times.

That first French Open victory took her back No1 for the time, reaching a tally of 21 weeks at the top in total. Along the way, she reached five more Major finals and two more WTA finals, and won the silver medal at the 2012 London Olympics.

But as early as 2008, Sharapova was beginning to have problems with her shoulder, and missed most of the second half of the season as a result, including the Olympics, the US Open, and the Australian Open of 2009. After nine months away and shoulder surgery, she recovered from outside the top 100 to end 2009 at No14.

Again, in 2013, she played only one match in an injury-marred second half of the season, and in 2015, played just one match between early July and late October—this time due to the right forearm rather than the right shoulder.

Perhaps the biggest blow to Sharapova’s career came with her revelation in March 2016 that she had failed a drug test at the Australian Open. She tested positive for meldonium, a substance added to the banned list at the start of the season.

She went on to serve a 15-month ban, and on her return, she would enjoy only modest success, making one Major quarter-final—in Paris—and one semi at the upper Premier WTA level.

And as recently as 2019, she missed another long stretch for more shoulder surgery, returning for the grass season after making the fourth round at the Australian Open. She has not won another match at a Major since, and picked up just one match-win in 2019 after her first-round exit at Wimbledon.

In her essay, Sharapova made particular reference to her very last match of 2019, which in a trick of fate, drew her against Serena Williams, the woman who had gone on to dominate her since that precocious teenager scored her two remarkable wins in 2004.

The Russian said:

“Behind closed doors, 30 minutes before taking the court, I had a procedure to numb my shoulder to get through the match. Shoulder injuries are nothing new for me—over time my tendons have frayed like a string. I’ve had multiple surgeries—once in 2008; another procedure last year—and spent countless months in physical therapy. Just stepping onto the court that day felt like a final victory, when of course it should have been merely the first step toward victory. I share this not to garner pity, but to paint my new reality: My body had become a distraction.

“Throughout my career, ‘Is it worth it?’ was never even a question—in the end, it always was. My mental fortitude has always been my strongest weapon. Even if my opponent was physically stronger, more confident—even just plain better—I could, and did, persevere.”

But Sharapova has clearly decided she will persevere no longer, a decision perhaps hastened by an equally disappointing start to 2020—two losses, in Brisbane and Melbourne—and a current ranking of 373.

So what of the future? Tennis, like most elite sport, demands 100 percent, 365 days of the year, and Sharapova has been doing that since, at barely 10 years old, she left Russia with her father to pursue her dream in the USA.

She put it thus:

“In giving my life to tennis, tennis gave me a life. I’ll miss it every day. I’ll miss the training and my daily routine: waking up at dawn, lacing my left shoe before my right, and closing the court’s gate before I hit my first ball of the day. I’ll miss my team, my coaches. I’ll miss the moments sitting with my father on the practice court bench. The handshakes—win or lose—and the athletes, whether they knew it or not, who pushed me to be my best.

“Looking back now, I realize that tennis has been my mountain. My path has been filled with valleys and detours, but the views from its peak were incredible. After 28 years and five Grand Slam titles, though, I’m ready to scale another mountain—to compete on a different type of terrain.”

Smart as well as a great athlete, Sharapova already has plenty of business interests, including her own Sugarpova confectionary brand. She is one of the most commercially successful and endorsed athletes in the world, and her striking looks have secured countless magazine photo shoots and fashion opportunities.

But her first priority, she suggests, is to take her foot off the pedal for a while:

“That relentless chase for victories, though? That won’t ever diminish. No matter what lies ahead, I will apply the same focus, the same work ethic, and all of the lessons I’ve learned along the way. In the meantime, there are a few simple things I’m really looking forward to: A sense of stillness with my family. Lingering over a morning cup of coffee. Unexpected weekend getaways. Workouts of my choice (hello, dance class!).

“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.”

What others are saying

WTA Chairman and CEO Steve Simon:

“Her achievements of a career Grand Slam, winner of 36 WTA titles and reaching the coveted No1 ranking reflect her deep dedication and passion for the game. She will be greatly missed by her millions of fans around the world, but I know this will also mark an exciting new beginning for Maria as she now focuses on her many business ventures, charitable activities and other outside interests.”

Billie Jean King:

“From the day Maria Sharapova won her first Wimbledon title at age 17, she has been a great champion. A 5x Major champion and a former World No1, her business success is just as impressive as her tennis achievements. Maria, the best is yet to come for you!”

Petra Kvitova:

“She is a big champion. She has really been a business lady off the court as well. So she achieved a lot in her life so far and she still have so many things to do. It was a pleasure to be with her on the tour, sharing the court with her. She’s been an amazing competitor, she never gives up.”

Novak Djokovic”

“Her impact on the sport, not just women’s tennis, but men’s tennis, tennis in general, was great. It still is great. It’s going to keep on being present because her brand I think exceeds her tennis achievements. She has different businesses. I know she has Sugarpova, different things. She’s a very smart girl, someone that I know very well for a long time.

“She has the mind of a champion, someone that never gives up. She’s shown that especially in the last five years. She had a lot of obstacles and difficulties, especially with her injuries and everything that she had to endure… Respect, great respect to her. I wish her huge relief.”

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